We just started a Legendary Lives game. I’m GMing for Nick and George (we all just finished a fairly long-running Sorcerer game), and we have also been joined by our friend Mark (who played Trollbabe and The Shadow of Yesterday with me and Nick many several years ago, but hasn’t played with us recently). We met up for a character creation session with gave us: Levspira (Nick), a Sidhe witch who has serious problems with her family (who are all famous, valiant Sidhe warriors) and has also pissed off a devout/patriotic faction of very pro-Elven Empire Firbolgs; Meyouran (Mark), a Spriggan scholar who is a thief and a compulsive liar (although of the type that seems to fall for their own b.s.) who longs to escape the Elven Empire and his background and become a great scholar/teacher; and Fieldmouse (George) a Feral ranger (born Forester, adopted by Nethermen) who had been captured by a particularly nasty circus and kept as a sideshow, escaped from this (with the help of Levspira), and who is now pursuing what he sees as his religious destiny (he had a vision to recover a sacred Nethermen artifact, the Spear of the First Hunter).
We met again for the first session proper, and started with a discussion about how we weren’t going to play the “pilot episode” of the series, so that we could skip over all the maneuvering about why these characters were together and, instead, jump past that to the point where we know they’ve decided to band together (perhaps only temporarily) with a shared goal in mind. In this case, the shared goal is make their way out of the Elven Empire (partly to avoid their enemies; partly to pursue their individual goals).
I hard framed them as just about to enter Balgravia, a city on the frontier of the Elven Empire, held by the Empire, but a site of low level, simmering rebellion due to its historical importance to Foresters. They were headed there to arrange for passage on a ship to get out of town, as it were.
We got through only one relatively substantial conflict before having to call it a night. I think we were all disappointed that we didn’t have more time to play, because even though we “completed” the conflict, the players didn’t have time to delve into some of the open questions around it. And I was thinking of holding off on writing up the game until we played more, but I wanted to share a little bit about the game that was not expected and that speaks to some of the issues that have come up in the seminars here, specifically the IIEE seminars and the initiative “best practice” seminar.
Ever since first playing Sorcerer back in 2005 (or if not since first playing, but first grasping it, which took a little longer), I’ve become sort of a snob about intiative rules, and have felt disappointed when playing games that don’t allow for the kind of dynamic reactivity that you get in Sorcerer. In my post on my Champions Now game, I noted some features of the game (and of Ron’s advice on how to play the game) that supported that kind of dynamism. But, based on how the intiative rules appear in the text of Legendary Lives, I was prepared to be disappointed by them and figured I would just have to live with them. Here are the relevant rules, under the heading of “Turns”:
“Starting with the player on his left, the referee goes clockwise around the table, resolving each player’s action as he comes to her. The players should sit around the table in order of their characters’ Quickness…
“Once all the players have had a chance to act, the feree explains what the foes are doing, if any are present. Then he begins the next turn by describing how the situation has changed or stayed the same.” (p. 151)
On the page that seems very basic, even simplistic. There doesn’t seem to be any place for the kind of dynamism or reactivity that interests me. When we actually started playing, though, I was impressed that the dynamism is there, but it is coming in from another direction, or, rather, from a different place in the rules: specifically, from the description of the result categories on the Action Results Table, which almost always provide for something more happening than just success or failure, with that “more” providing continuous input that keeps the situation from remaining static. Plus, because the referee never rolls for Foes, but, rather, Foes’ actions force players to roll defensively, you’re getting this “more” throughout the entire cycle of “goes” during the turn.
Here’s what happened for us:
The group was heading to where they thought (due to some decent Customs rolls) they’d be able to find relatively nice accomodations for the night (despite having a limited budget, Nick thought that Levspira could use magic to convince people to give them a deal).
I threw out the first bang (drawn from material from Levspira’s lifelines): they see a crowd gathered around a singer singing a very sad, very romantic ballad, and Levspira realizes that the singer is Sapphira, her ex-lover, a very talented Sidhe bard who left Levspira because she felt Levspira’s commitment to witchcraft was drawing her away from “mainline” Sidhe/Seelie society. What Levspira misses (due to a failed Alertness roll) is that her brother, Wellborn, a renowned Sidhe warrior, is in the audience with two of his fellow Elven Empire Army officers; Wellborn spots Levspira first and takes the opportunity to call attention to and humiliate Levspira standing there dumbstruck (because the Alertness roll failed really badly and because that’s what older brothers do). Mark has Meyouran step into the middle of this and try to impress everyone with his knowledge of archaic Sidhe ballads; which due to a Superior roll, does impress Sapphira (although leaves Levspira upset that he is essentially mansplaining to her ex-girlfriend).
Fieldmouse, who had been standing back during all of this (in part because he couldn’t comprehend the words of the song in Old Sidhe) was the only character with a vantage point to see a suspicious-looking well-dressed Elf (who is actually a Ganconer) approach Wellborn. Or, rather, the only character with a chance to see this, based on the result of an Alertness roll, which, turned out to be Awesome. We interpreted this as Fieldmouse, with his Feral background, completely and utterly grasping the essence of the situation: that the Ganconer was approaching Wellborn like a predator approaching prey.
I took this observation as the switch obver into more structured combat/conflict rounds.
(Although thinking about it again here, perhaps the border is a little fuzzy: is Fieldmouse’s Alertness roll his first turn or does it trigger his first turn? We played it the second way, but I can see a case being made for the first way. However, it is fortuitous that because his roll was Awesome it does allow that the character could have “acted so quickly that he should be allowed a second action in the same turn”, so, in this case, the results would have been the same.)
So – Fieldmouse, sure of his understanding of the situation and wanting to protect Levspira’s brother (even if he is a jerk) tries to tackle the Ganconer. He gets a Feeble on the Brawling roll, though, failing and causing an “additional embarrassing complication which must be resolved”: to wit, barrelling into a group of Elvish Ladies, knocking them over, and drawing the attention of the two Elvish officers.
Mark has Meyouran try to hide himself in the crowd, but gets a Poor result “fails more than he succeeds” on his Conceal roll, which we take to mean that he’s made himself somewhat less conspicuous, but anyone who is even slightly paying attention to what is going on is going to link him to Levspira and Fieldmouse and that he is by no means hidden. And Nick has Levpira try to make sense of the situation, which, from her point of view, is that Fieldmouse has just caused a big disturbance for no reason. Nick rolls a Passable on Alertness, which was perhaps a bit tougher to figure out how it would look (“With considerable difficulty, the character finishes most of what he attempted, but there is much left undone. Frequently, a Passable success results in a complication that will require another skill roll to overcome.”) We decided it made sense that Levspira would have some idea that Fieldmouse was probably aiming for the Ganconer, but wouldn’t have grasped the situation quickly enough to do anything about it – so though she calls out to her brother, it’s too late.
Now we move to the Foes turns: the Ganconer touches Wellborn, which triggers one of the Ganconer’s nasty mind controlly magic powers (I wanted to use the Ganconer as a Foe, but didn’t want to make a PC the target of his initial pretty nasty mind control stuff, so decided the first target should be an NPC — and not necessarily a sympathetic NPC either). And the two Elf officers make grabs for Fieldmouse — and here’s where the system really started to shine for me, and the dynamism came through: Fieldmouse misses Dodging the first Elf’s grab and ends up with his left arm tightly in the Elf’s grasp, but he gets an Awesome roll, shifted once left to Superior due to being less maneuverable now that he has been grabbed once. We said that the Superior roll (“gains a small, unexpected advantage”), while it didn’t allow him to escape from the first grab, did allow him to maneuver the Elf he’s grappling with in between himself and the other Elf, essentially turning the first Elf into a kind of shield.
That was just the first round, but I think it really shows off how the system works: it shows the importance of “perception”-style skills for giving context to the potential effectiveness of subsequent actions (with Levspira caught out and forced to act with limited knowledge of the situation), as well as the way that successful “defensive” rolls can create a very reactive combat/conflict sequence where there are genuine consequences based on the specific actions taken (and the extent to which they succeed/fail).
Anyway, the conflict continued with Fieldmouse using his Howl racial power to paralyze the Ganconer (only for a minute) and Meyouran using his racial ppower of Growth to intimidate the Elves into letting Fieldmouse go and Levspira making an Awesome Sincerity roll to command the Elves to grab hold of the Ganconer before the paralysis wore off.
That’s how we had to end it: we didn’t have time to get into the aftermath, and there was disappointment from the players that we had had this conflict without being able to figure out much in the way of “why” it was happening. But I think we’re all excited to play again soon to find out more.