Hello everyone !
I've finally GMed my first game of Circle of hands (yay me)! I will try and retell it and include the most interesting stuff that had happened. Please be nice, I'm still learning 🙂
Interesting thing that happened numero uno : one of the player described rape in one of his key event. Maybe it was my fault, I explained to him how you were supposed to do it and the main themes but I didn't want to pressure him to find something right away so I was like "okay write something before the first session" (which he did). So imagine my surprise when I saw his key event being about rape. We talked about it with everyone and I thought it might be okay if it was barely suggested (among other abuses) but decided to completly remove this idea from the play. Mainly because you (Ron, hi!) say we shouldn't do it and also because my games got more and more about those kind of abuses lately (more on this a little bit later). Mat, the player, was completely okay with it and we started our little venture.
The venture was set in Famberge, in the very small and very recent village of Grenwendwald (I was very inspired as you can see) located in the forest and hills of this area. I had rolled for two beasts so I picked the forestman. I created 3 NPC a gentry, Edmund, obssessed over hunting down this creature. I created a huntress, Ava, and her son, Egon, a very sick little kid. Nothing too fancy, it was my first time.
As a GM, I really enjoyed preparing the venture. I got so many ideas and until we started playing I wasn't sure which option I was going to take. I was thinking about the players arriving and most of the village is gone in the forest, hunting this creature, leaving only Egon (bed ridden Egon) to meet with the players. But I thought it might be more interesting if Edmund was just back in the village with all of his martial low warriors to rest and eat before leaving again the next day. So I went with this set-up. Could have been a very different venture if I had kept my first idea. ^^
The knights : starring Broghildur, a female gentry from Famberge (played by Mat). Starring Ansgar a martial low from Rolke (played by Greg). Starring Amalrik a Priest/Fisherman from Spurr (played by Nico).
So our little team arrive in the location of the venture and his very surprised to realise that nobody is waiting for them. Actually, and I made Broghildur notice this, nobody was standing watch which is basically asking to be raided here in Famberge. They proceded to do mysterious PC things such as standing there and "try to get a vibe out of the place", make a small round around the village, checking the houses… I indicate that there is some noise comming from the long house and Mat decide to check it out. He mets with a very surprised farmer that was just going out of the long house to throw away some dirty water.
Interesting thing that happened numero dos : this scene is interesting because I was describing the dude, his clothes and what he was holding and Mat was like "Is there only water in his bucket?" "Yeah I mean, it's dirty water." And he kept asking thoses types of questions during the game. "Can I sense if there is a wizard among them? Are they really loyal to Edmund?" I was just being very straight with him and he took him some time to realise that I wasn't gonna play him.
We then have a nice long scene in the long house for the two martial character and the fisher/priest (he failed his charm roll with Edmund) left with the farmer to give some food to Egon.
Interesting thing that happened numero tres : I had planned that Egon was sick from a chronical disease, something that doesn't quite kill him right away but make him most of the time useless in society and that will kill him eventually. I think I made such a bad face when the priest was like "okay I took Cure so I'm just going to heal him". At the moment I was feeling a bit bad, I felt like it was too easy and they are going to think it's not very interesting. So I was thinking maybe Egon is maimed instead so he cannot be cured right away. But that would have been very very wrong of me to do that so I took a deep breath and I was like "Yeah it's working! You see he seems to get a bit better with his eyes not yellow anymore and he is not as pale as before."
So basically what happen is that the two martial decide to go with Edmund in the morning to hunt this beast and the fisherman/priest leave in the middle of the night with Egon because he wants to find his mother since she hasn't come back with Edmund. Edmund had explained that those creature are very hard to track and their meat is invigorating and delicous. He also talk a bit about tradition form his familly is to kill one of this creature every one or two years to show that he is a good leader that also feeds his people. Some funny roleplay occur as Ansgard talk with a few other martial low and they all assume virility problems from Edmund, while Broghildur is being suspicious of everything.
In the morning, everyone realise they are gone but Edmund his hellbent on tracking the creature "if we also find them it's good". Okay so : none of them is an outdoorsman. They have no idea how to hunt or to track. Thankfully, they picked Perfection so I let them retrace the steps that took Edmund and co with a Wits roll unpenalized (it made sense because some of the martial low got injured and they went there like 20 persons so it was "easy" to follow).
Egon and Amalrik had an advance and was very determined to find Ava so they manage to find her, wounded, in a cave. He succeded on his charm roll so she is very happy to see him and her son. She is wounded visibly, like a big hole in her leg. She is also feverish and starting to get very weak. Amalrik "cure" her too. She explain that she had a fight with Edmund because she wanted to come back to the village to take care of her son because they had been hunting for like two weeks. They fought and he pushed her. She fell in one of the traps she made to capture one of the forestman and Edmund thought she was dead so he left with his man. Ava explain that she think a forestman helped her and put her in this cave with some kind of grass and dirt bandage on her wound.
In the mean time, the martial are having a nice promenade in the forest, guided by a prefected Broghildur, hunting the forestman. At some point, they talk about finding the priest and I'm like "Okay but what do you want to do ? Hunt or find your friend?" they decide to find the priest and convince Edmund to follow them which he does because they succeded their charm rolls. It's funny to say that Broghildur spend most of his play time coaching Edmund which was such a bad leader for this community. I had a lot of fun roleplay this. Anyways, everyone is together again. Ava is accusing Edmund to have attacked her and left her to die. Edmund is ready to go for round 2 with her but the PC calmed the situation and listened to Ava's side of the story.
She explain all of that again more or less and they ask more questions about context. Suddently, I have an idea (I think it's a good one) Egon is there too but I didn't do any charm rolls from the 2 martials for him. So I check Ansgard character sheet and I see that he has a golden bracelet which can be an interesting thing as a child. Since nobody payed any mind to Egon, he got close and went right to grab the bracelet. Ansgard litteraly punched the kid. But he succeded on his charm roll so it's was a funny scene where everybody started sceaming that he punched Egon, Egon was not even really hurt I imagined it was more of a surprise punch, not really strong and painful but just a bit shocking. In the end Ansgard felt super bad and gave him his bracelet apologizing so much.
A little bit after that, the players started to do what they do : talking amongst themself to decide what to do. The marials wanted to try and convince Edmund to give up on this senseless tracking while the priest wanted him to pay for what he did to Ava. Broghildur went to chat with Edmund about how he bad leader he was and how he should stop hunting those creature, he basically told her that she will either help him or she can leave. She came back to the group annoncing this, which led to talk about killing him or try to confront him in front of all his warrior. Ava said she didn't mention something before because Edmund got so agressive when she talked to him about that : forestman meat, if you eat it often you might turn into Ghoul when you die. She explained that it was the only solution for her to keep her son alive and that's why she accepted to go on the hunt. The players are very disgusted and with that information and Ava backing them up, they managed to convince him to stop hunting the forestman and stop eating his meat.
Interesting thing that happened numero quatro : at the end of the game, Nico said "well it was lacking a bit of panache" (he really wanted that fightwith Edmund) but his character never tried to confront Edmund or kick his ass. So next session I will try and stress that their character can do anything they want, they don't have to agree as a group beforehand. I realise how difficult this is for a player that is not used to kind of play.
For me, as a player, it's getting better and better to get detached form the group wants and needs and opinions. We played a session of Blade in the dark where one of the player organised some kind of sexual favor exchange for another player (we are playing a cult). And he really annoyed me. Because I am tired to see my fictionnal sisters getting raped, agressed, tortured, sold,… because some dude has no better idea for something trashy, because he can use and abuse his power to do just that or has to improvise something bad on the spot. So bam, it's always women. Anyways, this one session was a bit too much for me so my character walked up to the other PC and I told him that if he did something like that again I was gonna kill him. I don't know if this is such a good exemple because I was showing my annoyance via my character (she was annoyed too) but I think it was a good way to deal with the situation in game because now, he was warned and the consequences were not out of play "Laura is upset because we play trashy stuff on women and she just was pissed at Mach'" it was ok "Argentia (my character) will hurt Mach's character if he does something like that again because she doesn't want those kind of things to happen".
Thanks if you read all of that 🙂 Stay tuned for the next session!
8 responses to “First game of Circle of hands as a GM”
Thanks for sharing your session, I love hearing about other people's CoH experiences.
I find CoH a delight to GM. The prep is fun, the experience of running the game can be freeing and exciting. There's one major tip I have for anyone new to the game, though. It took me a few sessions to get it, but when it clicked, the play experience for everyone at the table took off like a rocket.
My advice: don't "zoom in" before the PCs are integrated into the community.
Re-read page 73-74, specifically and especially the left hand column of page 74. All that stuff looks like it's advice about framing the first scenes, right? That's how I took it at first and playing it that way sucked. The gameplay was leaden and prone to exactly the weird, defensive, squirrely PC behaviours you describe in your session.
To me, this sentence is the key one: "So it's axiomatic, unspoken, as present as the air you breathe, that when you arrive somewhere, you do what you socially know how to do, based on your profession and social rank, as it applies to the immediate and normal situation."
If it's axiomatic and unspoken and assumed, natural behaviour … you don't need to role play it out.
Just describe arrival, describe being met, describe the ways in which the players integrate into the community (whether over hours, days, weeks, seasons … whatever scale seems best for the venture), give the players some nice surface info about the way the community appears to operate that they effortlessly discover because they are now a part of the community … and only THEN drop into actual scenes and Charm rolls and all the rest.
Try it next time you play, maybe, and see what differences you notice.
Thanks for your input Gethyn
Thanks for your input Gethyn ! I feel like you are right, I will read again those pages and try to get them a little bit more inside the community before dropping everything on them ^^
Next session is next week so I have to get ready 😀
Group negotiation and agreement
It is definitely a real issue – almost binary, I think. Strangely, this "agreement" (or attempt, because it often fails) is always uniquely strange in terms of the activity: it is is curiously neither fictional or non-fictional, or for that matter, in-character or out-of-character. You can't ever really tell what the characters are doing or saying, or what is or is not among-persons table-talk.
Jumping to this … behavior (it's not an "action" or even "play") has some understandable origins. No one wants to be blamed for getting everyone killed, so making sure you have everyone's agreement beforehand may be understood as preliminary insurance against it. Another variable is that a lot of early D&D play required or recommended a "caller," especially at tournament tables, so that only one person spoke directly to the DM in an official capacity for the characters' actions – this practice has not explicitly survived, but the tableside component of play-free negotiation has persisted, especially in the assumed context of an adversarial preparation.
But I think there's more to it, which ties into the manipulative aspects of asking "can I" all the time, or always trying to fool or con NPCs, or trying to establish safety through constant perception checks. One thing this behavior does accomplish is to keep the GM's dice away from us, because as long as we babble and dither, nothing is happening, and so nothing can happen to us. This is entirely negative function, which is to say, to prevent play, or to limit it as narrowly as possible to a single combat or a single interaction roll, either of which "solves the scenario" – even better if it does so by somehow bypassing whatever dangers, traps, or tricks the GM has planned.
I hope you'll continue to play Circle of Hands, especially with your "antennae" alert to these issues.
I have a little bit of advice too: don't go softly on them. Your NPCs are hard, violent people, who are perfectly capable of murdering others to reach their goals, in a society which regards a killing as a fact which we all might as well move past. Your locations are genuinely dangerous – for example, solely as comparison, not as criticism, as GM I would say that Perfection might have kept one person safer from immediate dangers like twisting an ankle, but it would not have saved them from being lost, and it would not protect them from exposure.
Go ahead and be deadly. You don't have to "try" to kill anyone; the system will do it if you simply play it without going soft. Is this player afraid of "losing a character?" Circle Knights die all the time. Let him discover what it's like to live through it, and to play a wraith for the rest of the venture, and to continue to play with another knight next time, like everyone else.
I have a little bit of advice
And this is how I discover that I don't like to go hard on PC. It's so difficult for me to get in this head space, although I think you are right. I need to constently check myself and be like "don't try to make it easy, don't try to save them".
I will try to improve on this part because I feel it is really important for the play. I will let you know here with another actual play how it went. 🙂 Thansk for your imput on this !
Going hard on the PCs
Hi Arvina, just so you know you're not alone: many of us have trouble going hard on the PCs. I do, and I've been GMing for many many years. Over the past ten years I've gone through an attitude shift. You might say my old guidewords were "I have to protect the PCs from the harshness of the game, so they won't get emotionally hurt." This has always left me feeling disatisfied as GM. I'm moving toward: "I have to create and play NPCs with driving purpose and let the mechanics mediate the outcome–so the PCs feel fully engaged."
Many years ago, a GM manipulated one of my first characters, whom I loved, into a situation where his GM PC killed my character for bounty money. I was 16. It hurt. I think the memory of that fuels my desire not to cause other players to have the same experience. While I and my players are all mature adults, that impulse still lngers in the back of my mind.
a players thought
A player's thought
As a player I would not like the GM go soft on me or my PC. Admittedly, I’m pretty adult (in years). I absolutely can see how an experience like Alan’s can give you “scars” for the rest of your live. But think of it this way. How much fun would it be for you to suspect that the GM is holding back for some reason. If pep talk will help you, Arvina, reread your last sentences in the introduction you wrote. You are strong enough to do it and I’m quit certain the table will like it, especially if you, knowing your players thought you were/are to soft on them.
This doesn’t change anything
This doesn't change anything you've said (Alan and Helma), but for people who don't know the game, Circle of Hands is a little different from most games with damage-driven character death. Here are the details.
In combination, these obviate the usual structural consequences of a character's death: that you would have to stop playing for the remainder of the session; that you take a "hit" in terms of character effectiveness or some other mechanical or fictional quality; that you will encounter a rules system which has literally no rules or text whatsoever to say what to do when this happens (despite the rules making it possible or likely), and will be subject to wholly personal and unknown standards for what to do and how they will treat you as "responsible" for this event.
Again, this isn't presented as counter-argument, but as context for Arvina's points. The issue is not "whether to kill characters" but rather, "since Circle of Hands maintains functional play/participation regarding a character's death, why do I hold back."
For what it’s worth, we
For what it's worth, we enjoyed one of the best ever dramatic climaxes we've seen in any game during a Circle of Hands session recently. The events played out directly as result of the (sudden, shocking and very emphatic) death of a PC … and in fact things would not have happened as they did at all without that PC having died and continued play as a Wraith.