Lead on, specter!

Rod and I played our first session of Champions Now this week, drawing on our favorite chunks of D&D media, and the roleplaying setting of Karameikos in particular, for our inspiration. Rod’s playing lots of NPCs, not the least of which is the city of Specularum itself. I’m playing Suleiman (Sully to his friends), a tomb-robber and sellsword condemned by his god to walk the earth for all eternity as a djinn.

My brother created a wonderful character (a half-man, half-bear Druid who occasionally vanished into the woods to care for the ursine side of his family), but had to bow out due to scheduling.

In spite of this, Rod and I are off to a great start. Sully is caught between his mortal lover Lady Vlana, who is dying of old age, and Bargle the Betrayer, the sorcerer who most recently enslaved him. Both characters were inked and colored, along with significant elements of Sully’s backstory, by Rod from a couple of phrases I provided. 

I’m having an immense amount of fun playing him. The conversation with Lady Vlana was very affecting for me, with Rod’s description of Vlana’s window seat evoking a striking visual, like something out of Cerebus. In the fight with the Alphatian agents, Sully was like a Thief/Rogue turned up to eleven, able to be exactly where he needed to be exactly when he wanted to be. I was particularly struck in this session by the realization that Sully’s two Psychological Situations don’t have to be mutually exclusive: he wants to walk down the street savoring a world that he knows will outlast him.

Of course, this early in the process, these features are all promise. But if we follow through in the upcoming issues, Rod and I will have on hell of a title on our hands.

I would like to be better in future about honoring and reincorporating the phantasmagoria Rod is laying down (the anachronistic city-lights, the pulsing fish in the River Luminous). With Detective Work, Security Systems, and Desolid, Sully has many options for interacting with the larger situation.

Finally, a note on the recording and its warts: I liked crafting something polished and thoughtful for Planetary Convulsionary Evolutionary 4e, but I want to share actual play material without spending 4+ hours a week in editing. My process for these videos will be: a very simple recording, minimal edits, brief bullet points for myself on how I can improve the next recording. I hope this rough-and-ready approach encourages others who play online to try their hands at recording sessions and posting them here.

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13 responses to “Lead on, specter!”

  1. I’ve been a bit side-eyed curious about this since Rod first presented it at Discord. “You want to what with the what?”

    Watching play is really working for me. I’m taking notes on Newtown and Royal Hill. Rod, if you want to send me an image file or two, I’ll attach them to the post.

    Noah, I definitely urge you to work Security Systems and Detective Work as hard as you can. Doing so makes scene-setting and contexts for conflicts much easier, like fluid dynamics instead of Lego construction.

  2. https://youtu.be/1bDjKw543vA

    Session 2 of Champions Now Karameikos is live!

    So far, Rod and I are honoring the promise of our first issue, with verbal duels, ghoul-warrens, and arcane conspiracy galore, which I hope will drive into meaningful conflicts.

    I have found Sully’s groove, and I have to say I like him quite a bit, even as he swings between the poles of his two Psychological Situations and exhibits some glaring moments of immaturity. A few favorite moments for me: Realizing that Sully really likes the Marquise de Wildwood, particularly after the inhuman horrors of Castle Terror; the argument with Lady Vlana, because it showed that what I said as Sully mattered to Rod, and that he was willing to play her as an emotionally complex and vulnerable character.

    I’ve been trying to pick up and interact with as many elements of the situation as I can touch (for instance, Vlana’s servant Ferdinand, the banners going up for the Ambassador’s visit). I’ve even kept the re-roll list from Trollbabe next to me during play, to give me ideas for how I can incorporate Sully’s surroundings into narration.

    Rod and I had a brief discussion before the game of why this duet is working so well.

    In my experience of underwhelming duets, play takes on a rote call-and-response quality. You say ‘do,’ I say ‘re,’ you say ‘mi,’ I say ‘fa,’ and so on. There are arcs and conclusions, but they occur through a merely additive process, and often in a rhythmically or melodically predictable fashion, like scale exercsises instead of songs.

    In successful play with 3 or more players, a situational criss-crossing starts to occur between the participants such that each person’s creative contribution is not merely additive. Unexpected situtional elements take sudden, exponential leaps in importance as they are reincorporated, and arcs appear with abrupt and surprising shapes. No one’s ever quite sure what the melody is going to be. Someplace in our discussion of Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, Ron described this effect as ‘triangular.’

    Triangular play can occur between two players, but I agree with Ron that it requires specific procedures. For instance, the structure of Goes in S/lay w/Me works exactly to disrupt that call-and-response pattern, so the two players do not fall into the monotony of, “I go through the door.” – “You see a chest.” – “I open the chest.” – “There’s an idol in the chest.” At the very least, it requires both people energetically engaging with the fiction and driving toward consequence and conclusion even more so than in ordinary play. They have to pick up a bit more responsibility than they would if there were more participants, and basically need to do the work of three with two.

    Regarding the recording: I fixed the aspect ration this time around. However, I also ended up with 20 mins of blank space at the end of the video because I used the same timeline as the first one. Just know the session is only 1 hr 15 mins long, not the 1:35 you see on YouTube.

    • I haven’t watched the video of the second session yet, but I’m fretting about whether Bargle’s characterization went off the beam. We talked a bit about the difficulties of a duet, and one thing I’m noticing is that it’s a bit more difficult to stay alert to when to end scenes, because there aren’t other participants whose material needs attention. So it feels easy to get stuck in the inertia of, say, the conversation between Sully and Bargle and just keep talking and talking. I don’t want Bargle to end up as some detached self-analyzing guy, so I need to keep a better eye on his Situations while I’m actually playing him.

    • Another note: I went into the second session without having a Now officially written up, but I’m working on the Now — uh, now. There’s enough characters in the field as of last session that it clicked that the Now is exactly what I need right now (can’t stop doing that!)

    • Your point about inertia is great, Rod. On my end, I’ve aimed to be very decisive about Sully’s movements so we don’t become stuck in the twilight between scenes. But I can pay more attention to endings, too, and help pick up some of the slack.

  3. Issue #3 of Champions Now Karameikos has hit the spin-racks! https://youtu.be/INBc5MVAHdw

    You might notice a hiccup in continuity where, at the end of the last issue, Sully was galloping toward Castle Terror and now, at the start of this one, he’s back in his lamp. This is due to me reconfiguring Sully’s Variable Power Pool between sessions in preparation for confronting Bargle, which required him to go into the lamp and made his capture by the Order of the Silver Dagger possible.

    I’m loving Rod’s and my mutually encouraging aesthetic geling, where we both just instantly get what the other’s throwing down in narration – from the Kandor-like Ottoman palace in Sully’s lamp to the inner-lit head of Rodericka’s warhammer. In addition to being plain fun, this enables an easier flow of Special Effects, as is apparent in the sequence where we’re mathing out exactly how Sully can escape the Silver Daggers’ magic circle using his VPP. Even the moments when communication breaks down (as, for instance, when an image that I could see really clearly came off like a video game cheat to Rod) are easily navigated because our jobs are defined so well by the rules – I just said “OK” and substituted Sully’s Stretching power for Desolid, no problem.

    Sully and the Marquises’s frenzied escape from Rodericka and her Pegasus was a high point, and I am proud of how I employed Stealth, Stretching, and my deepening sense for Karameikos’ cityscape in that scene. I wish I’d been a bit more rigorous about counting Sully’s END expenditure during the chase, but when you factor in the panel-to-panel logic that underlies the Speed Chart, I bet that Rod’s and my intuition coincided with the arithmetic of Endurance expenditure rather nicely.

    Also, I can’t resist pointing out a moment at the end of the session where both Rod and I pause, unsure of what to say next. You can literally see the thought cross my mind that, “Oh right! I told Rod I would help out with scene endings,” and then I jump in and say where Sully’s headed.

    In terms of Points, Sully has 9 in the bank. I’m eyeing Enlarge and Surfaces, both to solidify the already-occurring Special Effects of Desolid/Stretching. However, I also think a Dimensional Teleport, usable on others, could open up a whole landscape of possibilities vis-à-vis Sully’s palace-lamp.

    Regarding the recording: Rod kindly offered some tips to equalize the input and output volumes in the recording software and smooth out the audio track, so you should notice at least marginal improvements in the listening experience going forward.

  4. More catching up, with Session 4 of Champions Now Karameikos! https://youtu.be/Lymhe-NbK0Q

    Due to tech problems that interrupted recording, I’ll have to film a short summary of sessions 5 & 6, then recommence posting recordings at session 7. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy our mean, lean fourth issue!

  5. After far too long, I am back in the swing of recording and posting sessions to YouTube. Tonight, I’m publishing a summary of Champions Now sessions 5 and 6, with a full session to be posted as I work through my backlog in the next couple of weeks. Check it out here: https://youtu.be/OdNnjBw1kns

    • Stoner genie pop-D&D fantasy superheroing … it does seem to work.

      I really like the letter to Lady Vlana: “Dear Lady Vlana, I have been doing a lot of thinking about humanity and how I am such an ectoplasmic jerkwad and stuff … and about you …”

    • It’s so embarrassing how many times I say “like” when I’m trying to describe Mercurius and his elementals. It gets better after that rough patch, though. And this session ended up having some of my favorite character moments — I loved the recurring thing of Sully always having a rapport with the regular-joe guards and henchmen he ran into.

  6. Sessions 10 and 11 of Champions Now Karameikos are available on YouTube, in a new playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLzEywzJMnN7WOEqIaQz7tJzfNRVOct1Qy

    These sessions are the last of this particular title. In my inner comics-cosmos, they’re published in a double-sized issue, bound in a full-color cover painting of the last image narrated by Rod in session 11, a melodramatic rendering that’s so melancholy it makes you smile. The title: “Death of a Djinn.”

    From a more practical standpoint, I wanted to call attention to the positive difference having both Rod and me fully engaged with the Speed Chart made between sessions 10 and 11. Our session 10 fight was nowhere near as dynamic and colorfully narrated as the one in session 11, mainly because I wasn’t slacking off and leaving the management of Phases up to Rod. Instead, we both kept an eye out for which actions were coming down the pike, kept count of how many phases someone had been Flashed, etc., and this freed up a small but essential amount of attention to devote to reactivity and sudden change-ups (ie, listening to each other).

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