Circle of Hands: first timid steps

Two days ago I had the chance to start a Circle of Hands campaign with some people interested in expanding their knowledge about roleplaying games, whose background is mainly focused on the 3.5 and 5 editions of D&D.  In the first session we arrived at what I would call a turning point of the first venture, of which I attach the preparation. From a certain point of view, I’m happy with how things are going, although I still have some doubts about the rules, and by talking about them a bit, I hope to see if I’m heading in the right direction.

Following Ron’s lead, I spent some time asking everyone how they were integrating within the community, without jumping to the investigative stage and trying to emphasize that the community is not facing an emergency, but a climate of tension that has not yet exploded. From one perspective, this was helpful, but the next phase turned into that kind of section of the game, and I fear I turned some of my characters into containers of clues to “solve the mystery” by pointing them too emphatically to the famine or to Kinge as “the weird woman who hasn’t recovered from her family’s death.” From this perspective, it’s interesting to note that all of the dice rolls on Charm of the Knights, so far done individually with a cast of characters partly pre-established and partly emerged from the Wits rolls, came out positive; no one is trying to stab them in the night, but I imagine everyone wants something from those individuals, crosswise. This very shot prompted me to play more actively with the relationship between Ludolf and Ragmar, one of the Knights involved in the interaction. I imagined what he might want from an outsider, and rather than hide the ghouls, I thought the hunter would rather show the newcomer, now valid of his trust, the truth to ask him to stop Hilde and his hunt. I think this is where we moved on to a new phase of the venture; I hope to play Hilde and Kinge more actively from now on.

An element of stalemate was a scene prior to Ragmar and Ludolf’s meeting, held at night on the beach; the other Knights, informed of the meeting and fearful of a trap, pushed on the afternoon to investigate the beach and gain knowledge on the ground. The interaction became confusing in intentions, which in the intentions of one of the players was to allow them to follow the two at night inconspicuously and gain knowledge of the terrain. I simply explained that since they did not have an outdoorsman profession, it would be difficult to get their bearings at night on the beach while investigating the area previously. Wits’ shots are still a little hard to hit, but I hope I succeeded.

9 responses to “Circle of Hands: first timid steps”

  1. Stop Going and Go

    Sounds like you're finding your feet really well.

    Regarding your stalemate at the end … I think you applied the rules correctly with Wits rolls and so on but I think it raises something that made my own ventures unfold so much better once I realised it.

    Withhold as little as possible.
    Have your named characters wear their hearts on their sleeves.

    Your named characters can lie and deceive and plot, of course, and it might serve them to do exactly that at particular moments in the venture. But generally, if they have something to say … have them just say it. If they want the knights gone, just have them say so. If they can admit something, just have them admit it. If they need help then just have them ask for help.

    The beach scene created a stalemate for you.
    But was any of that necessary? Presumably there was a scene where that meeting was suggested – what would have happened if he’d just had the conversation right then instead? He didn't have to meet in the dead of night on a suspiciously isolated beach, presumably.

    It took me a little while to get my head round it, but bascially the most interesting stuff – in Circle of Hands, certainly – isn't new information or changes in circumstances per se. It's how the players respond to that new information and those changes in circumstances. So why wait? Just give them the information, change the circumstances – and watch the fireworks go off.

    The people of the Crescent Lands are forceful, direct folks.
    As I used to say to my kids when they were taking ages to leave the house: "Stop going … and go."

    Looking forward to hearing more as your campaign continues.

    • [  Hmm. I’m now slightly

      [  Hmm. I'm now slightly worried my reply might come over as judgemental. To be clear, a) I could be talking rubbish b) I'm quite bad at typing on the internet c) the 'stop going and go' thing was purely whimsical rather than harsh or critical; and d) I'm feeling nothing but enthusiasm for you and your game. Carry on. 🙂  ]

    • No problem! I understood what

      No problem! I understood what you meant, and found it inspiring and certainly not abrupt. What you're saying reminds me a lot of how to play the npc's in Dogs in the Vineyard, but I was in some confusion from the first few scenes, and I clammed up rather than follow stronger stances for my characters. I think a lot of it also depended on the fact that, for the first time, I had no idea how the scenes were going to open, perhaps because I didn't make the goals of my npc's more clear; I was navigating the moment, and perhaps that pushed me into the defensive. I'm hoping the discovery of the ghouls will help me play some of the characters better; Hilde and Kinge have remained in the background, and I want them to push themselves more boldly toward their goals.

  2. A Daft Thought …

    First: Phew. Glad that came over as intended.

    Second: I had a thought, although it’s not exactly about your reply as such.
    I don’t know if it’s useful or relevant to your game or even correct, in fact, but I’m going to share it anyway because I enjoyed thinking it.

    In the rules, Ron says: “Circle of Hands, unlike Sorcerer, is not a Bang-y game, but rather a Cross-y one, and that's the primary skill one needs to bring to GMing it.”

    That, of course, is totally true. A Circle of Hands GM doesn’t do Bangs, we do Crosses and very lovely and easy and relaxing it is too. 

    But my thought was – is the shoe actually on the other foot?

    Maybe you could say Circle of Hands "secretly" is a Bang-y game, BUT only from the point of view of the named characters.

    To be cute about it, in Sorcerer terms every single one of those named characters has a Kicker that consists of the Situation as defined in prep, plus the phrase “… and then a bunch of Circle Knights showed up.”

    The Knights are a Bang. They absolutely can not be ignored – they live here now, after all. The simple fact of their presence – even doing nothing more than walking about doing work and talking to your family, friends and neighbours – is stressful for named characters who are probably under plenty of stress already. They're going to react.

    From the point of view of the named characters, the Knights have to be safely integrated (allied with, recruited, used …? ) or safely dealt with (socially neutralised, pacified, forced out, killed …?).

    The Knights won’t go away by themselves. They just keep on demanding a response, one way or another, whether they mean to or not. What's the response going to be? Well, that just depends on Charm rolls, on what a named character wants and what the Knights just did in connection with whom, and it's usually very obvious, immediate and simple once you see things just slightly intensely – more desperately, more aggressively, more fiercely, more reactively, whatever.

    Anyway, no idea if that's useful or true or anything at all. Circle of Hands does what it does beautifully – I'm definitely not suggesting players need to run about 'being Bang-y' or any such nonsense; GMs don't need to do anything other than Cross and do our GM stuff as the book lays out.

    But like I say, I found it an entertaining change in point of view. 

    • Just to add a detail to this:

      Just to add a detail to this:

      What's the response going to be? Well, that just depends on Charm rolls, on what a named character wants and what the Knights just did in connection with whom …

      I think book's pretty clear, but just in case it needs mentioning – a named character will act VERY much based on the level of social support/social power they currently enjoy. What a character does and how openly they do it is intimately tied to who they think they have backing them up.

    • This comment is great. I have

      This comment is great. I have GMed Circle of Hands a few times and this never fully clicked until your comment.

    • Bang on (pun not intended)

      Bang on (pun not intended) comment.

      I think this can be extended with some care to an entire school of games and ways people play them: games that can be absolute death traps for GMs who desperately try to figure out what is the problem the characters are here to solve, and that could be run with incredible easy just by shifting the premise to "the character ARE the problem".

    • Apologies for the engrish in

      Apologies for the engrish in the above comment. It's horrible, sorry.

  3. Next steps

    Adriano gave me permission to post this Discord exchange, which occurred shortly before his next session of play.

    Adriano: Ron, forgive me for the pre-session panic, but I'd like to clear up some doubts for my Circle Of Hands play tonight; I feel like I need to tweak some elements, and I need to better understand other mechanics: – Do Charm rolls for named characters have permanent consequences? If a knight and a character disagreed on a particular issue, would that result tell me how to handle it, or would I have to roll again? – During the first session, the knights settled without going witch hunting and interacted with people of their own social class; I had no problem assigning both dice for charm rolls. The second item, however, has me confused; if now, several months after their settlement, a Peasent wanted to interact with the local priest, would he still be professionally a fish out of water, and would he only roll one die? I hope I can resolve the other doubts I presented on the adept play post myself. If by chance I can't answer them now no problem, I'll try to find an answer at the table.

    Ron: Both of these are simpler than they may seem. Charm's consequences operate only until circumstances change, and that means anything important at all, to that character. Charm is merely a positive or negative impression, and specifically means whether they think the other person is "on their side, or seems like a person who would be." If that person then does something that obviously demonstrates otherwise, the Charm roll doesn't make this character stupid and not see it. And as I said, it's more than just what that one character does. It could be anything, any context for what this character cares about.

    Remember – it isn't mind control. It does not change views, beliefs, goals, or emotions.

    Regarding the second question, you've chosen a bad example. Peasants cannot use or receive Charm effects from anyone except other peasants.

    Therefore your question only makes sense insofar as we leave peasants out of it, or have both of the characters be peasants. In either case, stop being confused. The freeman, professional, and gentry social ranks interact with each other all the time. This isn't 19th century Britain or India; it's not a caste system. There is no one-die circumstance for interacting among these social ranks.

    [The next day]

    Adriano: Thank you, I mean it! The session closed our first venture, and although there are many things to fix I believe it was a good starting point.

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