A funny Thing Happened on the Way to Davokar

My local friend group got back together to play in person. We decided on Symbaroum, which I know some folks have bounced (hard) off of. Like any hard-headed gamer I of course had to make my own mind up. I am going to talk about my prep and such, but I do not want to bury the lead. Something wonderful happened in and around play.

I am the hardest core of the rpg’ers in this group. Everyone enjoys the experience but mostly uses it as a reason to socialize with their people. Now that does not mean that play is (always) sacrificed, but I admit sometimes we are rolling dice, but not actually playing. Some of these folks were part of the Star Trek Adventures game I mentioned a couple years ago? I still had some feelings about it, but not enough to wreck trying again with another game. I noticed, and perhaps failed to notice in previous games, that they were starting to take better ownership of their part in the games.

Out of the blue, they started talking the STA game. They expressed their feelings, took responsibility for what they perceived as their own missteps. And not just as friends might when they realize they may have ruined an experience, but about the game and how they approached it. This was encouraging as I had not brought up the game nor intended to. And I shut my mouth and listened, letting them talk about their perspectives as we prepared for Symbaroum.

This engagement continued. They helped each other with character creation and did not ask my help finding a rule if they could find itself. They helped me with some details as I fleshed out prep. We got into the game, and they were pro-active about getting into the situation. Only three of the four players were there but at one point, the character playing the Treasure Hunter said that they should look for a Witch to join their venture. The fourth player is playing a Witch. Yes, a little meta-gaming but it kept me from having to create a situation to add the character. They are actively seeking the fourth character in the fiction.

It may be hard to quantify, but these players were trying to play, not just socialize. And the low stress nature of the session reflected that.

Characters. All the characters are human-barbarians, save one who is a changeling.

  • Roha (changeling – berserker archetype)
  • Anamara (human – treasure hunter archetype)
  • Jan (human – sell sword archetype)
  • Unknown (human – witch archetype) – player could not make it

They are not all from the same clan but had run across one another previously.

Prep. My prep for the first session was basic.

  • They are at the spring moot with all the clans attending
  • One treasure hunter is looking to see if their piece of pottery is from Symbaroum or not. No one really likes this guy.
  • Some trolls will attack as night falls, trolls who have run afoul of elves and Ambrians (humans from the south) previously. They are looking for a fight.

And that was it. I had a few names written down depending on which way it went. And I was reminded changelings might not be as welcome here, so I had to create a bit of a changeling campsite where Roha had camped with other changelings. But that was it.

Play. The session was short, we played for around 2 hours. The NPC treasure hunter approached Anamara and Anamara made a lore roll. She discovered it was indeed genuine but lied to the NPC (Braraga) and once he was out of earshot the three companions started digging for more information. They found enough to wet their appetites but did not pursue all the possible avenues of information, which was fine. This took up some time and then the trolls attacked.

Combat can be deadly in Symbaroum. Especially with monsters that use static damage numbers and static armor numbers. That said, Roha cleaved the hell out of the first troll. Then three troll friends showed up and things were dicey. Anamara did go down and the remaining characters with the help of a number of clans folk brought down the remaining trolls. Anamara survived her ordeal.

This was a good beginning. It was strange as the GM to not be rolling any dice and we had to do the math for rolls a few times. I think we may have missed a couple things, but that will smoothed out as we go. The players seem engaged with the fiction but also the system. I realize I might have done a bit more prep but subconsciously was waiting for a negative experience. Well the experience was quite the opposite.

3 responses to “A funny Thing Happened on the Way to Davokar”

  1. Relaxation and reincorporation

    I've been thinking about this post a lot in tandem with starting the class sections of "People and Play." I wasn't sure what to say since it seems to me that you've presented very clear points of what to do and how to do it right … but I kept revisiting commenting because the post is kind of written as if you were wondering what you did.

    So, at the risk of telling you what you know perfectly well …

    One curse of starting a new game title is that everyone tenses up. "Let's see if it's any good." "Let's invest enough to cooperate but not enough to participate." "I sure hope they won't hate this game, I better make this good and smooth." Anything like that. Here, it strikes me that the people involved deliberately allowed themselves to unlimber from all that, and to say, "what the hell, I'll throw on in and play this thing how I feel like playing, and it'll go where it goes." A cross between no blood no foul and having a good time seems paradoxical in gamer test-it logic, but in terms of people-and-play it makes a lot of sense.

    Another curse is that everyone silos up, to use Jesse's term. Each person creates an encapsulated character, the GM creates an encapsulated scenario … which on their own aren't so bad, except then they stay that way. I'm talking about reincorporation, as discussed in the course: that the medium is generated when people say things using what others have said. If each person only says things pertaining to what they have said so far, engaging with anything said by someone else only when absolutely required (and to an absolute minimum), then the medium doesn't occur. Here, although I wasn't there, I am willing to bet that a lot of what was said commented upon or used or responded to what others said.

    Let me know if any of this guessing got anywhere.

    • There was one point that

      There was one point that stood out to me that might be of interest or at least discussion because I think it was a good example of reincorporating what had been said.

      Anamara ran into the NPC treasure hunter who asked her if she could date/examine his piece of pottery. I explained the pottery and the character rolled, achieving success. I gave the player the affirmitive that this was legitimate potter from old Symbaroum and nothing else. Her character's response was "Nope, sorry. Its crap." All on their own, no prompting, no leading from me, the player had taken the information and decided how they would react to it. And this was the real start of the adventure because the player had an idea of how they wanted to handle the information. Changes to the situation stemmed from that moment. 

      I have been thinking of it in terms of breaking the heroic mold. A thorough rejection of being good guys. That may be its own tangent.

    • I think you’re right that you

      I think you're right that you're veering out of the topic. The issue of good-guy or not isn't relevant.

      Reincorporation is an incredibly easy concept. As I usually say as example, "The door is locked." "I try to pick the lock." But its ease is deceptive regarding its power.

      For example, in this exchange, person 1 may have plenty to say about whether picking the lock works, but they do not have any authority at all over what person 2 has said or could say about what the character does. That's player 2's call. The insight here is that what is going on is absolutely due to the intersection of two people's spoken authorities.

      Well, sure, one might say, all role-playing is like that. I agree with that. But do you (rhetorical "you"), really? How much of what you and tons of people do at the tables honors that principle, in practice? How about if it's not a door but a beloved NPC for whom you harbor big dramatic hopes, later? What if it's definitely conducted according to how you say the player rightfully may do things, but defies your very sense of where things are "going" or should go? What if it displays complete disinterest in your stupid NPC?

      So the excellent thing about your example is not whatever messaging one may infer regarding the player-character, but rather that the player listened to you and did a thing with the thing you had said, and that you listened as well and treated that action/event as a new given state in which to play. You didn't have a story for her to walk into regarding the artifact – or if you felt it, you rightly recognized it as inappropriate – and played things from where they were established by that intersection.

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