Here comes trouble

Over at the Patreon, I’ve been musing about and sharing iterations of my personal hack-and-whack job on Legendary Lives. It took a big jump after the discussion here at Monday Lab: Probable cause, and turned a corner at the dubious moment that I decided all the Imperial characters would have mustaches, yes, all of them. That’s when I went back to the math and derived a new resolution table, which you can find attached.

It’s built on the same principle as the one used in Marvel Super Heroes, in that the chance of basic success is the almost the same – about 30% – throughout the whole range of ability. What differs is how much of the 01-100 range falls on either side of that chunk, and how the chances for very good success expand within the “good” side as you get better. Given a little cursing and erasing, it wasn’t too hard to figure out in principle.

At about the moment I decided to play this thing a little, I also hit upon my unserious title, “Whimsical Ways,” merely as syllabic parallel to the source game’s title and also to highlight my main interest in its virtues. The first video in the playlist is just me introducing some of the features I’ve changed or conceived so that this is its own thing. I don’t plan to publish it in any meaningful form, certainly no commercial form, and will probably eventually make it available as a free homage to the source game. And, I hope, as an example of what numeracy and playful imagination can do as the solid foundations for design as such.

Watching me work through the design steps and play-driven ideas is a big part of being a patron, by the way, for this and for four or five other simultaneous projects. There’s a button about that at the top right.

So, Helma and Noah are the willing participants, and we’ve started play, as also discussed in the first video. They play, respectively, Thirteen, a bedraggled scullion robot who happens to be a Killer, and Theoxxa Agg, a four-footed human-faced carnivore who wields a mean fantasy sword with a magical bone relic built into the hilt (they can use their front feet as hands). They have found common cause in mystic travels and encounters … but the trouble is really spiking right when Theoxxa Agg thinks the discovery-journey is over and has arrived safely back home.

First, there’s what the source game provides with its character creation system, yielding a crazy quilt of events, conflicts, questions, dangers, opportunities, and obsessions for each character. We’ve got that, and although it’s using my completely different array of Races, Types, Abilities, and concepts for things like tech and magic, the same dynamic “WTF … oh!!” process is operating.

Second, there’s what I’ve been thinking about and also discussing somewhere here across several posts and outright brutally at the higher levels of the Patreon – the interactions among Backdrop, Situation, and Setting, as well as the procedural options or methods we have to arrive at “where are we, what’s going on, what do we know, what do we see, what do we want, and OMG what is that?

In a word, preparation. But that’s a terrible word – it’s not preparation of something Ilike a meal or a movie, but rather preparation of stuff to do. And it’s not done just once; it’s an ongoing activity from thing to thing to thing, as we continue to play.

Anyway, among the plain fun of inspiration and the pleasure of giving homage to Legendary Lives, I hope this game will be a very strong object lesson in this critical aspect of role-playing as such.

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12 responses to “Here comes trouble”

  1. Unexpected Situations

    It sounds like the new ART is working well so far. It seemed to provide results that made sense, without too much (or any) stress on any of the players. 

    I have a question about the moment when combat started and Ron, you said (paraphrasing) that you were not "expecting that today, but alright".  And how you were able to shift in that moment to an unexpected situation and how your prep helped (or didn't)? 

    The reason I ask is that with all the discussion about situation and what happens now/next, quite often what people are really asking is what happens when shit goes south or the unexpected occurs? I would say that this where "things to do" become relevant and knowledge of the backdrop / situation can inform what is going to happen. 

    • That was a weird moment! As

      That was a weird moment! As soon as I said it, I wondered "What am I saying?!", and the answer is one of those things Jerry and I and others are reflecting upon a lot.

      First, it was grossly untrue. I knew that about four NPCs in the situation were close to violence, as long as they thought they could get away with it, and the way rolls go in Legendary Lives (as preserved here in this hack) means many social situations can turn dangerous. I guess it's true in that I had not planned a fight situation in the sense of a prepared event, but the notion that I was blindsided by violence appearing was simply a fib. It escaped my mouth and I stared at it – why am I fibbing?

      Second, it's a stock phrase for role-playing, a plain cliché of no merit or content worth considering. It's what you say to fill space or smooth things over, seeming to reference an existing social context but actually inventing a fake one. Such phrases are really obvious in all sorts of situations (family, work, relationships, et cetera), so much so that one is supposed to tolerate and accept them out of courtesy for the comfort of the person who says them, no matter how banal or counter-factual or self-protective.

      Editing the video made me re-live it so I could see why. Noah had the rules ready and was our rules-reference for the game. The crux point was when he had to look up the ordering of combat and I remembered the instructions were placed at the start of the general resolution rules, not at the beginning of the combat sub-section. I wanted to save him the stress of fighting through this organizational detail, but I realized that although I was telling him "look it up" in a semblance of trust, now I was telling him where, thus micro-managing with corrections and clarifications. It kicked me in my ease and I threw out the fake-ass phrase to cover for it, drawn from the playbook of the the manage-y nanny GM who is helpless in the face of play that goes off-script.

    • I guess the only one that was

      I guess the only one that was truly unprepared for fight in that moment was me. I had gravely miscalculated when came to what I remembered from preparing for a game of Legendary Lifes during winter and had not even thought about weapons for Thirteen or combat rules or any such thing. Given that I usually try to be a nice player and well prepared I felt really dumb and as if I had let everybody down by my roll. Fortunately that feeling (which was the only dumb thing happening) passed fast. By now I'm as prepared as Thirteen for the next violent encounter.
      My answer to the question "what happens when the unexpected occurs" would be: Magic. To be more serious, as long as we use any kind of deterministic means to move forward in play as a player I do not expect anything. I do understand that that is different for the one leading play. I tend to prefer games where the NPC are "real" in the sense of their reactions to my character are not preplanned to further som abstract goal of pushing the "story" in a certain direction but depending on how the PC handle the exchange as well as whatever luck/fate/chance gives us.
      Can't compare the new ART with the original (still not played that game of LL) but standing on it's own it most certainly makes me very happy.

  2. Truths and consequences

    I've been looking forward to writing about this for days, but had to wait until we'd played the second session. Here are some critical details about the resolution-based events of the first session.

    The biggie is that Theoxxa tried to explain the importance of her adventures, the meaning they had for her, to Oggox. Theoxxa's Sincerity is pretty good at 11, but Noah rolled terribly: first, Passable, which at least gets you a second roll on something, and then Pathetic. What this means is that Oggox – who does in fact love Theoxxa and really wants her to give back the damn relic and settle down, and is even considering murdering Shkazakk in order to protect her – cannot take Theoxxa's personal truth seriously. This is a flat-out relationship disaster. It's flailed into one-sided territory, at least for now, so that Oggox feels she must shoulder all the emotional labor and sense of responsibility regarding decisions to come, because she perceives Theoxxa as too moonbeam'd out on her cool adventures to think clearly.

    Obviously, she is going to blame Thirteeen. And then what happens? We find this same Thirteen joining a observance at the holy pyramid among exactly the same uptight, hyper-ritualized churchgoers who follow Oggox most fervently. Again, the potential Specialty in this case to assess the situation (Customs) was not too bad for Thirteen … and again, Helma rolled terribly, for Catastrophic. Obviously, Thirteen found it appropriate to do the very worst thing possible, guaranteeing a mob attack.

    Upon the next events, I felt Oggox's situation most keenly. This rather interesting character, full of options and possible ways to go considering the on-paper situation at the start of play, has in just about an hour of fictional time had her life ruined. Now her actual position as religious leader is also made more precarious and she has no choice but to go hard-line against Thirteen … and even worse, this opens up the chance for Shkazakk to defy her openly.

    I knew, going into session 2, that it was time for her to state her feelings to Theoxxa in no uncertain terms, and that much – perhaps everything – would depend on how Theoxxa responded. We've played that session, which I'm editing now, and I hope you're looking forward to seeing it.

    • The biggie is that Theoxxa

      The biggie is that Theoxxa tried to explain the importance of her adventures, the meaning they had for her, to Oggox. Theoxxa's Sincerity is pretty good at 11, but Noah rolled terribly: first, Passable, which at least gets you a second roll on something, and then Pathetic. What this means is that Oggox – who does in fact love Theoxxa and really wants her to give back the damn relic and settle down, and is even considering murdering Shkazakk in order to protect her – cannot take Theoxxa's personal truth seriously. This is a flat-out relationship disaster. It's flailed into one-sided territory, at least for now, so that Oggox feels she must shoulder all the emotional labor and sense of responsibility regarding decisions to come, because she perceives Theoxxa as too moonbeam'd out on her cool adventures to think clearly.

      This right here makes me want to play this game real bad. I love that kind of mechanic! Ties in well with the "relinquishing control of your character" thing.

    • Kathleen and Joe Williams

      Kathleen and Joe Williams really get the credit for that, with Legendary Lives' first publication in 1991. They included one ability for Lie and another for Sincerity, and each has its own criteria for rolling. Ability outcomes are expected to follow a particular array of possible results.

      So basically you're rolling for many instances of information transfer from character to character, and as we've found in play, almost any situation becomes a snake-pit of what each person has said to any other + whether they were lying or telling the truth + whether each recipient of the information thinks the person was saying something true or not.

      Jon provided an example from his current game in Drowning can be fun and other observations. You and I should play this version of mine soon!

      I can't imagine playing the game at all without this happening, so I'm pretty sure the authors knew all about it … and I also can't understand why such things didn't proliferate all over game design (in various applications or intensities) immediately. Well, that's not true. Given the period in question, I know very well why not; it merely nauseates me to contemplate it.

  3. Session 2!

    As promised! Here's the direct link inside the playlist.

    As I've mentioned elsewhere, I think this game will be a good touchpoint for the following things:

    • Events occurring and changing the course and outcomes of scenes
    • Scene transitions
    • Situations changing due to the outcomes of scenes, both sequentially and conclusively
    • How preparation or any processing between sessions of play are involved with these things.

    I can't promise that this game will also show how new situations come into play, or how changing situations may influence the backdrop, or how backdrop inclusion can change situations. They're all part of the same concepts as very briefly introduced in Situation: primary and primal.

    I don't plan to dig into this topic hard until we're done playing, but here are a few things to think about concerning the events in this session.

    • Certain other characters are very active and so far have eluded notice by our heroes. I mention at one point in this session that decisions and outcomes have kept certain people and events clear of one another.
    • The role of Fate in determining the precise locations of our heroes when they went looking for one another and went badly astray. It was extremely easy to imagine an outcome for any result on either roll, considering all the other stuff that's going on. I didn't list them out in detail, but thought, in each case, "so what's a Passable?" and an answer came so quickly that I knew I'd be OK with any other result as well.

    In development terms, the game is basically writing itself now via play, as it should One thing I've learned about prep and overall concept is that the GM's big job is to bring the weirdness of the various fantastic elements which have been invoked by the characters' creation process. You have to see it, own it, give it content, allow it to flower into more weirdness of your own making (which feels involuntary), and not be shy about getting it into play. That last phrase is an admonition to myself because I haven't done it enough.

  4. Session 3!

    I'm looking forward to sharing my notes for preparation. They began as a page of wild scribbles and then I realize this mass was really just a couple of distilled phrases – nothing more. So I went into play with those phrases, one more map that I knew I'd need, and a bit of game mechanics for each of four NPCs, nothing more. Two of them have been active in the situation from the start, but due to the vagaries of Alertness, Intuition, Memory, and Fate rolls during play, only one was briefly glimpsed until now.

    Here's the direct link to the session inside the playlist. Also, here's the map I mentioned which did come into play, but I think I forgot to include in the video.

    At one point, Theoxxa was on the staircase between C and A, going up. I knew that I'd call for a Direction check to see if she would perceive the shift from below ground-level to above it; I also knew that if she did proceed above ground toward the trap door to get to A, she'd hear the commotion in A that had been caused by the two NPCs that she currently knew nothing about, without a Listen roll because things were pretty loud and confused up there.

    But Noah said he wanted her to Listen just as I was starting these rolls, so I followed all the logic I could muster to combine (i) the Direction result, (ii) the Listen result, and (iii) what Theoxxa could hear if she were above ground level, without a roll. You won't see into my mind in the video so here's how it went. The successful Direction check indicated to me that she at least went high enough to discern this information, which made (iii) possible with no roll, as conceived. But where does that leave the failed Listen? Basically it forces it to occur before she figures out

    Noah had struck on quickly given the failed result for (ii), saying that she'd turn around and go deeper rather than upwards, which was OK by me – there's something in D, known to me, you can bet on that. But I hadn't managed to get in my GM statement about (iii) yet, regarding stuff she could hear, roll or no roll. So I had to stop Noah and say, hold on, the failed Listen means you get no actual information (it wasn't Catastrophic, so no special consequence), but there is something for you to hear just because you did get up high enough.

    I was thinking at the time, oh shit, on video this is going to look like I directed the player to "go the right way" by overriding a failed result with a successful outcome. So that's the "what I was thinking" instead.

    • Quick note from my

      Quick note from my perspective, playing Theoxxa – I knew she was barreling through the pyramid looking for the first available fistfight. Ron had the unhappy task of corraling a giant catperson on a rampage, but when he mentioned voices, I knew Theoxxa would head straight for them. I couldn't help imagining what a character with higher Knowledge skills would do – doubtless pay attention to the fascinating Nagas archeology and wonder what lay deeper in the structure.

    • That person would have a

      That person would have a measurable chance to become swiftly-decomposing refuse down there in D, so count your blessings. However, to repeat, "corralling" Theoxxa was not an issue. I was determined to abide by my prior commitment that getting above ground meant hearing something up there.

    • However, to repeat,

      However, to repeat, "corralling" Theoxxa was not an issue.

      Yes! What I should have said is: Characterizing Theoxxa as sprinting around looking for a fight led me to take "wider" Goes than I might have otherwise. I moved her from halfway up the stairs all the way down to the deeper level in a couple of sentences, a reflection of her wildly storming through the pyramid. Then you gave me the rest of the results of her previous Go, and I immediately changed her direction. From the outside: potentially appearing as you nudging me toward the "right" path. In play, though: perfectly reasonable and functional uses of our authorities.

  5. Session 4!

    And finishing it out, for purposes of our little adventure and of my needs regarding the design. Here's the link!

    Thirteen and Theoxxa Agg are a formidable pair when they want to be, and I hope to see them in action again some day.

    We talked about a couple of things at the end as well, including the fact that during this kind of playful-play of something you know is in development, plenty of things one decides or tries turn into not like that for purposes of the next time.

    But the real draw, I hope, is that I'm now composing and recording a detailed breakdown of everything I did, prior to play, during play, and between sessions regarding backdrop, scenes, and situation, as a case study for the Seminar post Situation: primary and primal. Let's see how well you do with that!

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