Chains and chaos

We’ve packed in three more sessions! So, 17 total. The linked video goes to #15 inside the playlist, and I’ll add the next as I finish editing them.

What you’re seeing in these is the considerable expansion of the setting to include the northern subcontinent. We finally bring up ethnic visual topics in the 17th session, so if you’re wondering about that in the first session you see here, rest assured it does not get ignored.

You may note that the image I’ve chosen is considerably emotionally charged. I’ve used it already as the lead image in my cult writeup for the Merciful Dawn, and it fits here well. The long, slow burn of Zort’s chaos features – dating all the way back to the first session – has finally come to the front of play.

I’ve also given some attention to the skill training rules as they are rather generous and save players the grinding hassle of successful rolls + skill improvement rolls for every single 5% boost.


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22 responses to “Chains and chaos”

  1. Session 16!

    Well, it looks like it might be time to examine those Rune Lord rules. Here's the direct link to the session (into the playlist).

    Special points to anyone who spots the direct reference to Fyodor Dostoyevsky's notions about the Devil.

  2. Session 17!

    Here's the direct link into what is now a very long playlist. Finally, successful Cult rolls reveal the geographic, political, and metaphysical stakes … right when our heroes find themselves at the bulls-eye.

  3. If you don’t look for trouble

    If you don’t look for trouble it is certainly going to come look for you. That at least would be my summary of the last (by now actually four) sessions. Skava is learning to keep her calm, in case somebody is wondering why, she wants Zort to be able to decide which way to go without intervening. Which does not mean she would stand by when he get’s into serious trouble – that can not possibly count as intervening, right (her thoughts, not mine)?

    All sessions posted here were pretty intense, even the non-combat ones. Wonder if and how that becomes tangible in the videos. When not in combat I have to concentrate much harder on what is going on and how Skava would react to it – both short term and long term, it’s exhausting but fun non the less. Part of it probably is because I always fear to miss clues because I simply don´t know what to look for, part is the language but still I wonder how others experience combat versus non combat play, what do you feel is more taxing mentally and why?

    • I think combat is generally

      I think combat is generally less mentally taxing because violence in play-pretend is very nicely structured and tidy. I hit you, you hit me, eventually one of us dies. Whether we have a strict ordering system in place or not, there's a clear sense of urgency and purpose. We always know what's happening and we know where we're going – we want to survive or prevail or kill our opponent. It's not nice, but it's reasonably easy.

      Outside of combat, we don't have that. I think you hit two different problems in your observation. The first (the taxing experience of thinking "what would Skava do?" and bringing it into play) is something that I think Ron has been tackling in the two most recent Consulting sessions. In my experience this is where people get lost often – because "who I hit next?" can often be a crucial decision, but it's a focused one. "Where do we go next?", "Do I care about this?" and "What's the right thing to do now, for my character?" is another matter entirely.

      This introduces the second aspect ("I simply don´t know what to look for") – combat is a structured activity. When know when it begins, we know when it ends, we generally have a discreet set of actions we can use while it's going on. In most games, the rest of play isn't equally structured, and often not clearly identified as an activity. "You can do anything, we're simulating you existing in a make-believe world". We can do anything so we don't know exactly what we're doing now. Maybe we're doing many things at the same time – whatever it is, we don't have that "we're in combat" label telling us what the priorities and possibilities are. 
      Some games try to make the rest of play more like combat, in this regard. I'm playing Pathfinder 2, a game that tells you that you have 3 distinct stages of play: Encounter (which includes combat), Exploration and Downtime. The boundaries of these activities tend to become so loose and the activities interrupt themselves and overlap, so it may as well not be there for the purpose of what you're talking about. Or you may get games like Blades in the Dark, that at all times precisely tell you what you should be doing and how you should be doing, and (for my own personal tastes) that removes the problem but also the pleasure, in good part.

    • Interesting, my take is the

      Interesting, my take is the exact opposite of Lorenzo's. In many games combat is the crunchiest, most rules-heavy part of the system, so instead of getting the excitement I want from the situation, I get bogged down with minutiae. For example, having to keep track of endurance in Champions, having to wait my turn in D&D, having to calculate distances, modifiers, and so on. Outside of combat, I feel more free to simply play my charcter, and ideas and inspiration occur more readily to me. 

  4. Session 18!

    Getting cosmic again – here's the direct link to the new session, within the playlist. Also, here is marked a rare moment when my posting is actually brought up to be current with play.

    Damn – Parts 1 and 2 are slightly different edits of the same section. I have to go back to the beginning and remake them. I'll get to it as soon as possible.

  5. Let’s talk about luck

    What Ron was commenting about when he said that I hate luck roles (which I do not per se): After we played session 15 (it is the follow up session to the fight at the standing stone, the incident refered to is at the end of the first part) I did send an e-mail to Ron inquiring about his invocation of luck. Taking Rons comment as a challenge I would like to put my thoughts here and see if anybody else has thoughts. In case you wonder, I got an answer that I accepted but I do not feel I should cite that here that is up to him, so I just put out my thoughts on that one out at this moment.
    citing from a mail I send him: “I would like to ask you a question and as I'm kind of concerned how I will like the answer I realize it will have to be another of my mails.
    You used luck in our last session and I do not think luck (or the opposite of it) has anything to do in a world like ours. I know it is technically yours, but a world with a whole pantheon of gods would not have any such thing in it right? Gods have favorites and may make life miserable for those they dislike for whatever reason. So why would luck be needed? I am pretty sure that my pdf-version of 2nd edition Runequest does not name luck.
    Nobody protested so I decided to be quiet. But it has bothered me since. Why did you do it? It worked like magic, but I'm not sure it is the right kind. “
    Regarding the invocation of luck during the last part of last session, I’m happy to have Ikindu still with us, no further comment from my side about that one. A big chunk of the session was a weird combination of serious and hilarious and I actually quite liked it.

    • My play groups have always

      My play groups have always used luck in RQ, or a POWx5 roll, for those bizaree moments where no other roll might work. I do not know which version of RQ it is an artifact of.  Since it is a POW roll, I have always interpreted it as the character making their own luck. 

    • So there are two different

      So there are two different situations that could come up: Using a roll for luck when nothing else would work or when you need to be lucky – like, in case you feel it is smart to throw something at Erko when he is holding in on of his axes. That is ok I assume, although I'm not sure I would like frequent use of it, but that is personal taste. The earlier incident was Skava rolling really low when looking for a sheltered spot at the onset of night which put the whole party at risk. In that case the luck roll came after a "failed" skill roll which made it feel like a reroll – something I do not think I like particularly. This I feel is mor serious. I personally rather take the consequences of any roll, high or low.

    • That is one reason some games

      That is one reason some games have luck / hero points which are either a finite resource OR a tradable resource that is not easy to trade for. It lets you use luck, but once it is gone, it is gone for that session. 

    • Power rolls for luck can be

      Power rolls for luck can be found on page 110 of the current "2nd Edition" Runequest Classic reprint, in case that is of interest (I don't know how faithful the reprint is and to what original version though). The example there is both brief and brutal, succeed at the luck roll or drown, and I'm not sure it helps much with the wider question here.

    • Here’s what I replied to

      Here's what I replied to Helma in our email exchange (June 5-6):

      Regarding luck, there are two concepts to consider. First, as far as the rules are concerned, you are right that Power is not "blind luck" – instead, it is referred to several times as the gods' favor. The text varies between Power being the character's own intrinsic feature, which the gods recognize, or the gods' attention and favor, which "fills" the character. This ambiguity makes sense in terms of real-world myths and culture, so I accept that it's both or a mystery.

      Second, using Power x 5 as a Luck roll is common in later versions of the game system, but I typically don't like it and don't use it. It's often just a way for the game master to make the story go the way they want. In our case, I hesitated a lot and really had to make a decision about it – I just observed myself while editing and it's very uncertain-looking. The reason that it occurred to me at all, and that I decided to use it, is that the Insect People were in fact looking for Skava, and she had just fought one of their enemies and suffered because of it. They were using magic to try to find her, and the "signal" she was providing was very strong, in terms of symbolic events and the shared worship with the Insect People's version of the Woods Woman.

      Therefore I found myself in a strange situation: instead of saying, "well, she failed her roll, so I guess I'll put in some luck to make things go the way I wanted," which I would have rejected without thinking about it, I was saying, "Given all these circumstances, the characters' Power/luck should really be returning them a 'favor from the world' about right now," especially since there were individuals actively seeking to do that favor.

      So it's worth discussing – good play or bad, on my part? I'm sure that we'll see people respond to it and provide their thoughts.

  6. Session 20!

    Hitting that point when the very fabric of space and time does its famous "oh no, shall it collapse, shall it expand, shall it shred apart, and it's all up to us and the devil dice!" thing.

    I draw your attention to the players' collective response when I reference trippy album covers and hippie rock poster art.

    See it all here inside the master playlist (currently at 148 videos, yeesh).

  7. As I’m getting teased with it

    As I’m getting teased with it during every session since … Let’s try to move the discussion away from Runequest and luck and move it to the real problem – if it is one. The sentence in Ron’s answer that best describes that is that there might be tools in the game that provide what Ron so nicely describes as “a way for the game master to make the story go the way they want” and the question I have about it is right there to: “good play or bad”? It obviously depends on the circumstances and how the people involved look at it but I’m really interested in getting lots of opinions and examples (for both good and bad).

    • “Making the story go the way

      "Making the story go the way the GM [or anyone really] wants" is a generally negative feature of play, as far as I'm concerned.

      I need to be specific though. This is apart from things which are that person's responsibility to invent, present, or improvise. We're talking about things which either do have some system in place to occur or have no system in place. So respectively, the GM (or whoever) shouldn't or cannot say what something else or how things go, in a consequential way. In Forge talk, I used to call this 'Force,' used to override or fill in gaps in fashions which really ought to be managed via systemic resolution, in order to work well with the authorities as we understood them or with other features in this game.


  8. The ending

    Session 21 has arrived.

    I've got a lot to say about how I prepared and played this session, most of it extremely self-critical. I'll write or record it as soon as I can. I figured you'd want to see the actual session for the sake of our epic, rather than analysis, so enjoy!

  9. What a journey this was

    What a journey this was. I am so happy that I got the chance to be part of it. I'm certainly curious how you prepare your sessions, but don't be to harsh in your self critic, you are not the only one with reason to self-criticize.

  10. Some thoughts from a recovering first time player

    Don’t apologize for asking “can I/can my character do this” if you don’t know the rules but make clear that the question is about the rules and not rhetorical probing. Don’t use those words otherwise, GM’s are allergic against it. Additionally, if you propose an action without those words and are unsure if it is allowed by the game, make clear that you don’t test boundaries, for the feel and flow of the game it may be nicer if you don’t ask even if you feel like it.

    Do talk to your group when you can’t pick up on the mood/atmosphere or loose your footing under way (not sure of the right expression here, but hope you understand) of the game. When our characters went up into the mountains I picked up that things changed but I couldn’t really get into the new rhythm. In hindsight I should have told the others or at least Ron, it influence my play even if that doesn’t show in the videos as badly as I feared. I had every chance to do so as it started somewhere in session 19 or 20 and we used to talk a little before and after games. I was simply feeling dumb and didn’t want to ask/talk about it. Yes, I know that the only dumb thing in this is that very thought and believe me, I will not make that mistake again. As it was, when Ron mentioned “fantasy films of the 80th” during the last session as a clue for the feel of things my mind went to “Labyrinth” and “The dark crystal” and that was probably as far away as possible from what he meant.

    Anyway, I’ve learned a lot, I’ve had a lot of fun, I’m happy that I met the people that became “my” role playing group for those months as well as everybody that so kindly answered my questions and comments at this site and on Discord.

    • After the “attack of the

      After the “attack of the everything” for the last few months, I ran out of energy, and now I’m far behind on posting videos and also on commenting across many posts. Today begins catching up.

      Here are a few “other side of the mirror” thoughts on your excellent thoughts!

      Regarding “can I,” there are two layers to consider. First, the deepest, is that the term “rules” is broken, because so many of the texts are simply poor, whether in phrasing or even in genuine design. We can go down a terrible rabbit hole regarding whether we mean text rules (in a book) or table rules (what we do) – I suggest that this does not matter, but that falling down that rabbit hole has distracted everyone from the real problem.

      The real problem is that the group at the table itself is often in a state of caution and mild confusion, masked by a number of social fallacies. Therefore a given person often does not know exactly how their character does or does not do something, or even more profoundly, what we (the group) are doing this activity for. Since the default condition is that the whole group has no answer, the solution is typically to give up on finding out as a bad job, and to employ a number of tentative, then manipulative, and eventually passive-aggressive techniques in order not to be (fictionally) harmed or (real-world) humiliated.

      That’s why “can I” is usually not a perfectly understandable inquiry about how we do things, but is instead a sign of learned helplessness arising from a culture of distrust. In this context, the game-as-played (“system at the table”) is believed not to be able to handle anything a person says for a character to do, even when that action would be perfectly sensible in fictional terms. I’d like to mention that the designations of player and GM are not important to the problem, which is a problem insofar as just one person is caught in this trap, no matter who it is.

      [This is related to the hobby’s extensive vocabulary which obfuscates rather than clarifies, e.g., the almost mystical content to the term “the GM,” or “system,” or “rules-as-written,” or “rulings,” or “immersion,” or “playing in character,” or “story.” Most of these seem reasonable at first glance until you examine their breadth of meaning across instances of play, and then you will see that they are excuses not to address the real issue.] [Also related: the noxious habit of arriving at a decent solution for one’s own group, then mansplaining to everyone that this solution is the “real” or “actual” way to play a particular game title.]

    • The mood-and-atmosphere topic

      The mood-and-atmosphere topic is especially fascinating. It has two sides, both of which exist at all times.

      • First is the side of prior or standing consensus: “this is what we’re doing, this is what it’s like, these are the parameters for fictional actions and events” – essentially, being on the same page.
      • Second is the side of an emergent, non-consensual but nevertheless compatible result, because we cannot actually read one another’s minds and what we play is necessarily composed of what we say and hear.

      Many, many RPG instructions treat these as conflicting alternatives, mistakenly so. In practice (reality), a group needs enough of the former so that they may produce an enjoyable (and novel) version of the latter. By “enjoyable,” I mean that we all receive and appreciate one another’s shared input, much as different instruments necessarily provide different input into music played together – and that’s why the resulting music is not merely an echo of the starting input or guidance.

      I can’t speak for others, but after many missteps through the decades, I have chosen to apply clear but limited standards for the first side, in the knowledge that I’m not really happy until the second side is under way at the table. I have rejected the notion that providing and enforcing more and more of the first side alone is the route to clarity or fun in play.

      That’s why, in our case, if you had asked for more direction or guidance regarding this feature at that point in play, I would have been less helpful than one may think, and encouraged you to feel and find your way much as you actually did.

  11. And finally

    And finally, as somebody asked for it in an earlier post, here is at least one of the character sheets, for Skava. I marked the initial skills and magic as far as I remember them. Don’t really remember numbers but I think non weapon skills for her started at between 20 and 45, weapon skills may have been somewhat higher with the bow as much as 50 or 55. We started with very simplified character sheets which was a great help to get accustomed to the game. I don’t remember most of the initial stats but POW was 13 and CHAR somewhere between 12 and 14. The first sheets did include pictures but the character description did not include status or runes. I think cult names were given but descriptions of the cults came much later.


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