The Clay That Woke is a wonderful game to play. You play male minotaurs living as denizens in the ruins of the remains of a decadent civilization – with its very high culture only living as shadow of itself, but this shadow is still giving you a glance of the high wonderfulness of this society. The dense jungle around the ruins inhabited by the people is both wonderful and dreadful. We met at four players, two from US and two from Europe, to play a game at Christmas day. I had a few situations in a notebook, and I overthrew my stress to gm in English to get into this wonderful session with two players I didn’t know before.
The Clay that Woke is a a good game for me to face my stress of gming. I generally muddy myself in “overprepping”, which is trying to know every details of the backstory before the game to “be ready to say something”. Clay is not a “non prep” game – it requires investment for the GM. The preparation of a session is daunting but so smart: you think about an injustice that taks you in your gut, personally, not a general macro thing, you “translate” it into specific NPC with specific behaviours. Those NPC can have “quiproquo thinking” (they don’t take responsibilities for the consequences of their own morally questionable actions) or “strange beliefs” (stranges conceptions about their situation, the world, or those weird of urban legends) that can be true or false. They can also have both. Not all NPC does not have to be like that, but I chose to have the character’s master and we had three different scenes. Those who have quiproquo thinking, or strange beliefs, or both, are called intrinsic NPCs.
There are lots of things that I love about this game (I gmed it, never played it), here are some of them: it is really evocative and it is really easy to improvise interesting lore during the game. This a high fantasy setting, and the book is 120 pages, but you have what you need to root yourself in the imagery then everything flows by itself during the game. I always surprise myself, adding little elements that are only color, but builds a mood of weird wonderfulness, which seems to support the engagement in this shared imagery (I’ll let the other confirm or invalidate this claim).
Playing the intrinsic NPC are superfun. They are totally nuts. Sometimes it is written on their face, sometimes it is very subtle.
The conflicts, alled “inflexions” are also very interesting in terms of Intent-Initiation-Execution-Effect. It is a token resolution system: you put tokens you have in your pool and you see the outcome. When there is opposition to a PC, we stop a bit to clarify the intents of the parties involved, but we don’t draw the tokens directly : we play and describe and we go further until we feel that we need to resolve it through the mechanics. Then we draw, we know the outcomes, and we play it until we are able to implent them through the fiction. Everything has to flow. Three things attracts my attention here, based on this game.
First, sometime the player change its announced intent through play before we arrive at the resolution, and the resolution does not seems to be needed at all. Here, as I did before, I try to remind that we are just playing through the resolution, but it seems like the described actions really changes the intent of the character – as perceived by the player. I think it is part of a learning curve, but it is open to thought.
Second, the starting situations. Prepping a starting situation is daunting for me. The game text anticipates that and its advices are really good, as mentioned above. But it is also useful (and generaly more useful) to think about the starting situation involve personally the character. For instance, I had no “big story” behind the starting situation of the soldier. I took it from an actual play I’ve seen gmed by Paul Czege, because it is superfun. The Minotaur’s master is screaming because a snake has eaten his daughter. He commands the Soldier to kill the snake, get back her daughter – she is dead – then kidnap another kid and find a stag anywhere he wants so it can feed on the body and sucks her personality and memories so he can feed te kidnapped child and “Neither seen, never known”. I don’t have a whole story of injustice translated in a fantasy cultural issue behind this, just this intrisec NPC with quiproquo thinking. But it works wonderfully. This scene was both lots of fun and intensity. The situation is dramatic and I could see the player’s eyes growing bigger the more and more this scene was growing. I used Sex & Sorcerer techniques of hardframing the starting situations and going to another player when we needed to go to the resolution system. The Soldier killed the snake, listened to his master telling him to find a stag and kidnap a kid, then he went on the bank of the Vadmriver where he smoked roots to calm itself while dolphins were singing to him minotaur poetries of another millennium.
Third, the silence. Silence is sometimes open to discussion: did a minotaur breaks silence there? Was this situation a social injustice he endorsed? We had a pretty intense situation here. I took this one from the book. The wealthy judge master of a Philosopher Minotaur is looking to the dead body of a servant. He asks the minotaur to testify against his wife, so he, the judge, will be able to “lift the curse” with the Philosopher while everyone is protected in prison. Then, when the curse is lifted, he will have the power to get out everyone of prison and “save this household”. In short, the Philosopher, thinking it is totally crazy, locks up the judge inh his room, convince a bodyguard Minotaur to help him to talk to wife. “A curse ???? Oh my god, we need to lift it!!”, said the judge’s wife. Follows a weird situation where the wife talks with his husband, the husband asks the bodyguard to kill his wife “because anyway I will get her back to life after I lifted the curse”, and the Philosopher battles with the bodyguard and wins the conflict with its mind, convincing the bodyguard to stop the fight, with a moment of respect between each other …… then kill him the bodyguard by surprise. I didn’t expect! Nobody did. Every players were like “whaaat”. One of the players said, “did he break silence?”. In the actual play I’ve seen, the same discussion occurred, and I took the same path. “Let’s keep the Silence as a group thing”. We had a little about this. The Philosopher players explained that for him, this minotaur was going to kill this wife, and this kind of behaviour is a threat for everyone. And it’s true that the whole thing was an unfair situation: a false testimony, the potential murder of the wife, the wife going in prison etc. But killing a minotaur is a huge thing ? Everybody seemed to agree that the situation is fuzzy, but not to the point that silence has not been broken. So we went this path.
The third situation has also something interesting to discuss. The Advocate Minotaur’s master led him into a prank to accuse one of his rival. The Advocate had to impersonate a false ghost that pretended to be customer of this rival, dead because of her. The rival, that seems to be totally innocent, and maybe the first non intrinsic NPC (which makes her sympathetic in comparison of the others), but also fair. Even if the Advocate whispers her to flee, she answers by saying that “if she had made a mistake, and people are dead, I have to take responsability”. I think the player did not expect this, because the previous important NPC had quiproquo thinking and it built an interesting situations. People led the rival into the judge household – yes, this judge actually dealing with the curse. I’m not sure if it is in the text, but crosses works very well with this game, without being mandatory, and in a “sorcerer” style. It is realty easy to do: I didn’t think about it, it just appeared to be a good thing at this moment.In this game, we did not have time to have an opportunity for PC minotaur to meet together – which is not needed, but could arrive with crosses.
In a previous session, I forgot to do the last scene: players play anonymous minotaurs talking about the social issue behind one of the PC’s story. It is easy to workshop this, by negotiating which “scene” we want to choose. There is no advice in the book to help prevent this. One player was aware of that and went just framing the scene and talk about the Philosopher. So it may feel arbitrary that one player can just choose… But I think it is something that could be a “debate in-game”. This scene should not be forgotten, it felt very important for me, as a closure of the session. It focuses everyone attention on one of the event and let it discussion at the more general macro level. It also let time to reflecting, but through play, one intense situations everyone had to expect.
Interestingly, everyone one a Name token in this game. It was wo fun that we want to schedule a new game in January. This is a wonderful opportunity to play in the Jungle, which I expect to be a new kind of mood and psychedelic trip, if the players want to go its path – I will be very explicit that it is possible but not mandatory. I will try to record it. We played 3 hours when I was expecting 1h30-2h max, with 30 minutes of introduction of the game and its setting.
An interesting thing is how the intrinsic NPC creates and sometimes superstisious secondary characters (such as a crowd) makes the players feel they are in a complete alien civilization, disconnected from it. The players are not expected to be intrinsic at all. I think this lead to some kind of solidarity together “men this world is weird” that helps engagement in each other story. The most funny is when you realize that one of those NPC with strange beliefs is actually right. Man, does this juge’s household is really cursed and is he right about what he wants to do? For the purpose of this session, I didn’t decide anything – I let the game builds itself before I need to make a decisision.
Another thing I want to say relating to this discuscussion : https://adeptplay.com/seminar-hearts-minds/presentation-why-glorantha-and-its-games
I commented there that I have no idea how to “binge Tanith Lee” to fill notebooks about fantasy setting. I said that S/Lay W/me helps me to do it, but it is also true about The Clay That Woke. It has a wonderful effect on me: during play, ideas are just coming in reactions to what the players says, do, thinks, and the evocative setting and text in the book are just sufficient to prompt novel ideas. There is “bestiary” with 100 creatures you can meet in the jungle. But you have three or four descriptions, such as this Plant “Stag” who feeds on fertile soil (such as dead bodies) and sometimes produce seeds with the memories of those dead, or those dolphins singing wonderful stories of previous centuries when they were walking with the humans. Or those glowing fishes who hides in human skulls in the Vadmriver. Or this other one who collects fallen seeds underwater, keeps them under this skin and digest them when he is afraid of a predator as it pump its adrenaline ups – and that is served as a meal to express friendship between minotaurs and humans because both species can eat something from them. Having that in mind, it is really easy during play and through play to come up with weird things. The thing is I don’t “try” to do it, and I don’t expect myself to do it. But every time I play, it happens. Details about color are building from themselves as we describe the situations, not a lot of them, maybe one or two by session.
A simple starting situation by PC with one move by NPC and one situation of resolution needed is generally enough for a whole session – even if the text book seems to expect a lot (moves, truths, potential truths, situations). I try to lower the pressure with this game and it works. If I don’t have any idea, I’ll just end the session and need some time to prep the follow up. The problem that can arise (I had this once) is when I have a very nice “social issue translated into the setting” but with no ethical choice for the character in the starting scene.
11 responses to “The Clay That Woke”
I made so many typos, sorry about that. One important correction to preserve meaning is that one:
Should read "There is no bestiary (…)"
I think the rest is understandable even if noticable.
Hey, Sam here. I wanted to post a small reflection here in reply to your thoughts, although it might not be replying to anything specific you said.
Something I always have difficulty with when not playing as a GM is the level of "createdness" a character should already have when a game begins. I'm not sure how to say it other than does this character start as something more solid in terms of actual personality/characteristics and motivation for some kind of action, or simply a skeleton of an idea of a character and some strong motivation for action. Here the constant for me is motivation or need for action, but the thing that is always in flux is how much the character's personality or background is fleshed out.
The thing I love about The Clay that Woke is that it really pushes great motivation to the front and pre-planned personality and potential choices (my character would do x if y happened) to the back. So the decisions that are made, especially in the first session which seems to always involve enormous decisions and immense contradiction, create and mold a character organically. This motivation before personality (or whatever you want to call it) type play has always given me the most success in creating "human" characters (people who make contradictory and surprising actions). Even down to the lack of a name, the game foregrounds the immense potential energy a good character possesses and purposefully dwells and expands that unknown rather than pushing it down right away. I guess the antithesis of this might be alignment or something like that (?).
To make this more specific to the play that happened, the moment where Rasheed's minotaur suddenly killed the bodyguard minotaur was extremely surprising, and the discussion we had about whether or not Silence had been broken by his actions painted an extremely complex picture of Rasheed's minotaur, whereas I imagine that if the character sheet had some sort of checkbox next to, say a word like Zealot, and he had checked this, that moment wouldn't have been so character defining or surprising and would have required far less table talk. All we know is that his character is a Philosopher. Now we know what kind (maybe).
Anyways, I'm looking forward to next session a bunch.
I paste the related
I paste the related discussion prompted by this comment in the discord :
It’s a big theme, the one you bring up – I always felt there a strong relationship between how much we detail a character before playing it and how much we allow him/her to become somebody through play.
I have a small reflection to offer and I’d love some feedback on it. I’ve been thinking about it for a few days but I can’t seem to find a way to put it in English so that it doesn’t sound like criticism – it’s not, so don’t take it as such. It’s part of my observations on what I learned/observed on Adept Play.
In short – have you noticed that a lot of the time, perhaps most of the time, when the GM-figure asks “what do you do?” players seem to default to describing how their character feels? Or thinks, or his motivations – but generally speaking, putting the “why” before the “what”.
I've noticed myself doing it too. It’s fascinating.
Yes! That was my first realization by playing sorcerer, you can see me in the first Sorcerer Marseille game posted on the website.
Ron keeps asking me "what do you do" and I keep answering "what I'm trying to do", "what I meant I was doing with this character", etc. but not what do I do.
The weird thing is that I was thinking to myself "he is not letting me roleplay" when in fact it was the contrary.
There are a few games I think that are made purposely to "avoid" that : Sorcerer and the clay that woke are part of it, and S/lay w/me and Cold Solider are explicit about this (particularly cold soldier
In the clay that woke, as in sorcerer, you don't build your character with a whole story that fixes his personality, you discover your character retroactively after evaluating a sequence of actions he made in tense situations
In Rod's sorcerer & sword game I realized it changed my way of playing the character, instead of sending my spy demon and wait for her report, I was like "hey, it's better if I just confront the NPC with what I know", a decision I would not have made from the character point of view who was careful, but it allows me to interpret who my character is, like he is careful, but this time, he was not, without having to design a complex personality beforehand … I think it is interesting because my character surprises myself in this way, a few seconds of "why did he do that" generally show an answer very fast, and gets me excited more about this character
I do find that I tend to talk
I do find that I tend to talk a lot about what my character is thinking. And I think that playing S/lay w/Me and The Clay that Woke recently has necessitated a more active aproach to play. Instead of thinking and considering too deeply, take the action that the character and the fiction and the mechanics are begging you to take (I usually find that I instinctually know the "correct" action and I just have to accept it almost instantly once I have played a character for a bit). Of course action can be considered for a bit if it is unclear. But I think that the practice of pausing play before a major decision and puzzling it out for ten minutes before choosing often either produces: 1. super bland "tactical" choices 2. equally as unfun, often trying too hard to be smart/subversive "the most interesting choice" choices. I don't know if this is exactly what you are trying to get at, but I do think it has been on my mind a lot, especially because I have actually gotten to be a player a lot recently instead of always having to GM.
However, I’m realizing I have
However, I'm realizing I have extended thoughts.
Some people, real or not, take actions they desire to take–Conan might be the perfect example. He could never speak a word or have a thought written on the page, and he would know him well and truly by how he effects the world. But many people do a lot of things without actually meaning or wanting to do any of them. If you were to play a game about a person living paycheck to paycheck working food service, for example, I think that thought would mean much more than action. It is vital, I think, to remember that thought and inner experience is just as, if not sometimes more important than, action that has a material effect on the world. Probably forgetting this or ignoring it is why our characters are so often proficient at killing and convincing.
I would argue that thought can be interesting–maybe I'll write up my experiences with playing The Hour Between Dog & Wolf, which is a game that, while it does have shocking and intense action, is surprisingly (at least when I have played) most compelling when the characters are simply thinking and being impacted by the previous, often traumatic, action in the game. This is, of course, not thought alone. The thoughts of the Hero in The Hour Between Dog & Wolf are interesting because of the horrific actions that they have taken and the horrific things they have seen. Likewise, the thoughts of the food service worker are interesting because of the sometimes subtle horrors of poverty and wage slavery (a gradually diminishing time left on earth and a meaningless job sucking up all your time that you can't quit or you'll starve will generate some "interesting" thoughts, I think), and perhaps less the actual action they are taking. I'm not saying here that thought alone is very interesting, I really don't think it is.
I would appreciate some thoughts on this. Because while I do see the importance of action, I actually really think the "thought bubble" is often underappreciated.
Sam, I think you hit the nail
Sam, I think you hit the nail in the head – both things are needed, and my comment wasn't in any way criticism of the process I'm describing.
What I did notice (and it resonated with me because I often find myself having similar "problems", expecially when playing with younger players) is that sometimes it seems like the GM-figure (Ron, in most cases, when it comes to Adept Play) sometimes has to work very hard to get people to say what their character simply does – where he goes, what does he do, how does he react. This is expecially notable when the situation is particularly urgent and fast paced.
I think there's a few identifiable mechanical/cultural elements that could play into this.
First, there's a long tradition of playing games with 6, 7, 8 players plus the DM where you learned you would listed to one guy talk and talk and talk until it got to your turn and you was asked "What do you do?". And you knew that once the roll happened the guy would take back the authority to say what happened and why and how your character felt about it and then the whole table had to go again. So that moment was the moment where you got the spotlight, your "voice" and you tried to put as much as you could in those moments.
Now, this isn't a structural or chronical problem, in my opinion. You see it on Adept Play videos – Ron's handling of the spotlight lets people get the time to actually play out their character. But my impression is that Greg's comment about having the initial impression of "not being allowed to roleplay" stems from a long tradition of poor handling of spotlight.
The second thing that comes to mind is part of the ongoing analysis on rolls and failures. Being asked "What do you do?" when the outcome is undecided (because of the roll didn't happen yet) can be tricky to answer. This is in my opinion all about how the rules are written in each specific game. Is it "What do you try to do?", actually? Ok, but then how you answer is going to be informed by how your odds look like. I think you can see this a lot in Undiscovered (and honestly, I think it kind of is a flaw in the overall design of the game's math). You do things based on what's written on your character sheet, but the first line says you're actually investing several points in being a good scout or in reading ancient languages, but that turns up as a 24, 36, even 44% chance of success. So when you answer about what do you do, you're preparing for failure, and it becomes "what I'm trying to do" or even "what I wish I could do", and then there's a lot of embellishments and internal monologuing about how you feel about it all – because you don't own the action yet, you often have no clear perspective of what failure means, so you're sort of stuck trying to persuade another player that even if you're not going to succeed and even if your failure won't really produce an outcome, your actions means something.
We eventually moved away from rolling when there was no clear instruction about failure and things became a lot smoother in my opinion.
But still, I feel a lot of this has to do with how IIEE is handled in games. Contrast this with The Mountain Witch, where the "what do you do?" part can be the simpliest declaration of intent ("I'm here, fighting this guy") but often is just "I'm helping X" – and then all the narration, descriptions, emotional impacts and introspection comes later, when we have an outcome to base it all for. Or even Legendary Lives, where the rolls are so generous in producing information that they just take over and lead you to what actually happens.
So my personal impression is that the more the game asks me to say when I'm asked "What do you do?" (that is, before I roll and get the outcome), the more I need to feel I can trust the system to produce usable success or failure. If I can move all of that to after the roll, and to when I have the outcome, then much of the hesitation and workshopping and internal monologuing is gone. And I'm under the impression that a lot of this "I have to go over the full spectrum of my characters emotions and intentions before I actually pick up the dice" has some roots in the fact that the most widespread tradition of gaming habits tells us that once the roll has happened, the player goes silent and the DM speaks.
Hey Lorenzo! The interesting
Hey Lorenzo! The interesting thing in the clay that woke, at least as I understood it and as I facilitate it, is that you don't "try to do" things, you just do it. A few times, a player told me "I try to do this", for instance "I try to catch the bodyguard and bang his head on the wall", and I replied "don't try, do it". A bit like in S/lay W/me Go: what is enunciated is what happened in the fiction. It does not mean that you have won the inflexion (conflict), and this inflexion can lasts longer that a scene: we could for instances days and days of a hunt in the jungle, with various twists and turns until we actually go into the resolution of outcomes. We just play the situations and try to resolve them with logic, but when we see the inflexion is not gonna be resolved, we draw for an outcome and we continue play until fictionnal statements are made coherent with this outcome.
Whenever a players says "I try", I answer "don't try, do it", we clarify intents of the parties, we play through back and forth discussions, we draw for outcome and then, generally we get into the descriptions again. I think it is better to not overthink or, worst, negociate "what does this outcome looks like" then play it, but even if we don't see what the outcome looks like. There is an interesting thrill to go with the descriptions, knowing what is the outcome, but not knowing how it will happens, and going into back and forth descriptions with everyone's input. In this case, the Philosopher drawed "you overcome the situation by being smart" or something like this, and I didn't expect that it could lead to the murder of the bodyguard: the player presented a smart way to solve the situation "I know how to lift this curse" and used it to surprise the bodyguard. The text in the rulebook is explicit that if you don't think you can arrive to this outcome just by playing it after the drawing, you can introduce a new elements that changes the situation, a new npc, or even change the scene and resolve this outcome by setting up a new situation.
It takes a bit of time to get use to it and just go with your guts, and I myself really enjoy this incentive to "just play this outcome blindly, don't workshop it"
a little addendum: in short,
a little addendum: in short, the question in Clay is not "what do you do?", but "what outcome do you want?", we'll see how you get into it by playing it. The text is also clear that you don't choose the tokens you want to put based on what your character did in the fiction as stated before, but based on the outcome you expect. We actually had a little discussion about it in-game with the bodygard situation
Yeah I really noticed myself doing it in games and also when I GM and my players are doing this. It's like we have to justify why it makes sense that we would act this way or an other. I think Sorcerer, S/lay and Clay are great games that pushes you out of your skin and let you be in touch with something more spontaneous than a really life decision making process. I love that in those game you are a moving and feeling blank slate which you can color the way you like in taking actions. (Not sure it was the intent of the authors but this is how it feels to me)
To comment on this, I wonder if this is the "thinking before making an action" or if just “acting without thinking too much about it” would make bland or "trying too hard" choices. My point here would be that if we act without thinking then it connects to the experience we have (as a person) and how we usually make decisions and actions. Maybe it's some kind of shortcut to be able to feel something about your character in the idea of "I like him/her/it because he/she/it acts like me"? No judgment here, just a thought.
An example : I played a game of Kult recently with people I didn't know and it was great. I think playing games those kind of games allowed me to be less thoughtfull about my character and the way I play. We had a scene were the GM played some kind of hotshot gangster and my character was negociating a drug deal to be the only seller in the city. She first succeded her rolls on convincing him to let her have this but she had to kill someone in exchange. She said yes because she couldn't imagine a way out of this now that she was faced with that choice to make. And the dude just gave her a loaded gun. Then she, like it would totally make sense now that you have almost everything you want, shot him. Her action was not because I (i.e Arvina) thought it would be so damn cool for the story if she shot him (it actually was but it wasn’t on my mind at the moment), she didn’t have a lot of chances to hurt him being very bad at fighting, but it felt very right for her like; this idea wasn’t coming out of my own brain but hers, and I was totally on bord for this.
[Fun fact : I had to correct myself and my tendancy of saying "I" for my character, am I the only one struggling with this?]
As a side note we forgot to add one more name token for Rasheed, since the ending scene was minotaurs talking about the murder of a minotaur by an other. 🙂 So many rules ! Can't wait for next game !
Cheers ! Arvina
Silence in play
My biggest fault in introducing and playing this game is to confuse the in-fiction reluctance to break Silence with player-level instruction not to break Silence. The first is a big deal as far as the characters are concerned, but that's all it is. The minotaurs think they shouldn't, or have been taught so, anyway, but the players have no such restriction, i.e., it's not "against the rules."
I thought about this a little bit in regard to the single session we played at Spelens Hus (But not too silent), but since then, thinking more, I've decided it was really bad on my part. Players should know that breaking Silence is perfectly all right as a stated action, as far as we-the-people and what-about-the-game are concerned. The system is set up to handle it, in fact, in exquisite detail.
From now on, when a player says something that breaks Silence, I will identify it, honor it, play it, and apply the rules, just like any other action. Critically, unless that's the last Silence token, nothing happens.
I don't really know whether this concept matters to your specific experience or not. I think it's important about the game as concept and procedure.
I made this fact very clear
I made this fact very clear at the beginning of the session, and at least one player lost silence in this session, but not on purpose. I think it is a very important mechanic too: the game seems to be lead to situation where you have to break silence anyway.
The thing I did forget in previous session is to put a courage or silence token in the krater if an intrisec character is part of an inflexion. Aware of this, I think I did not forget any rules in this session. It seems to be minor, but I think it is not. Players can get more courage and silence tokens and this leads to more opportunity to get a name token from the outcome if they use them to solve difficult inflexion (a unique silence token is greated as a life token and a lire token with resistance gets you a name in the menu), so it can have an impact on the decision to break silence or not in further scenes, as you may have won silence tokens. I'm only getting a glance of the token economy through play but I think one have to play at least a few sessions with the same characters to really get into it.
I look further towards when we understand more the token economy!