Our Legendary Lives game continues: we're up to 12 sessions.
Session 8 turned out to be the climax of the first arc of the story. To recap the events leading up to it: the Bowmen of Balgravia had managed to set fire to a number of buildings in the city, in an attempt to draw out and then attack the occupying Elfish forces. Their plan was thwarted by Fieldmouse using their secret code against them, causing them to retreat rather than press the attack. However, the fires were still set, and in the area around the wharfs, had grown especially bad, which led to a docked ship catching on fire -- and THAT fire was in danger of spreading to all the other ships in port.
This situation gave Meyouran a chance to take center stage: Mark's characterization of Meyouran has been very enjoyable, with a couple of key features drawn out of the backstory generated by the character creation process (not only the lifepaths but also his family background, traits, and idols). Meyouran's family background is that of derelict, and his type is Scholar. He also has the "mental illness" lifepath of "compulsive liar". Part of the way Mark has conceived this is that Meyouran is ashamed of his past, so has created an entire backstory about how his parents were actually famous scholars and he is just trying to follow in their footsteps. Fittingly, he is very skilled in cunning and lying outright, and terrible when it comes to sincerity. That being Sincere, trying to Lie, or using Cunning are all different skills, with different requirements for what triggers them, and different potential consequences for both success or failure, has been an important feature of our game in determining the different ways NPCs react and interact with the characters. It also forces tough choices on the players: Meyouran just isn't that effective interpersonally if he tells the truth, but, in most circumstances, failing at telling the truth is a lot less dangerous than being caught in a lie.
However, Meyouran, along with being an excellent BS-artist, also has a lot of practical, hands-on skills -- which he often tries to hide due to his pretence of being raised by scholars. Mechanical is among his highest Base Skills and he has Boating at full value. Deciding this was his chance to do something heroic (although not completely altruistic, as he was counting on getting passage on one of the ships in danger of being burnt up), he jumped onto the burning ship, and, assisted by Fieldmouse and Daphne (an Elfish warrior whom Meyouran had given first aid to after she had been struck by a flaming arrow during the previous session), started to pilot it out to sea, away from the other ships.
That part worked - the docked ships were saved! But the result was only Passable. I decided, to add a complication: the ship was clear, but, in the process, Daphne had been struck unconscious by a falling beam. Next, trapped on a burning ship, they had to try to jump clear of the fire and swim back in, with Daphne in tow. We had established that the wind had been picking up (which played a part in increasing the danger of the fire spreading) and so we figured it meant that the water was getting rougher as well.
For the next part, I first had them make a Strength roll to see if they could deal with Daphne. They failed this, losing their grip on her, which I ruled (rather harshly) meant that she was lost at sea, which left them in the position of having to make Swimming rolls to get themselves back to shore safely.
Legendary Lives’ rules for drowning are found in the description for the Swimming skill. Drowning rules have historically been an object of fun (if not outright ridicule) in RPG discussions, but the drowning rules in Legendary Lives are extremely functional and very fun. Failing a swimming roll isn’t especially lethal, but it can lead to significant complications. In this case, Fieldmouse succeeded on the swimming roll and was able to go straight back into shore, despite the weather. Meyouran failed his swimming roll, washed up on shore some distance away from where he was heading, though he managed to resist taking any actual drowning damage. What this meant though was that Fieldmouse was hailed as a savior of all the ships, and by the time Meyouran got back to the wharf, Fieldmouse had stolen most of his glory -- and Fieldmouse’s attempts to give Meyouran credit was taken by the crowd as a sign of Fieldmouse’s humility, due to a failed Sincerity roll on Fieldmouse’s part.
This wrapped up the action in Balgravia, and the next session marked the beginning of Chapter 2: with the group setting off on a “round the inner sea” voyage, with the eventual destination of Qes, due to Meyouran’s wish to go to the Temple of Knowledge and Fieldmouse’s growing sense that he has a great destiny in front of him. This session didn’t have much in the way of conflict, but featured the characters interacting with NPCs on the ship. This was a very fun and enjoyable session, even though not much happened. (We did still make a bunch of rolls, mostly to sort out the different kinds of reactions the NPCs would have towards the players). (Tangentially: reflecting on some of Ron’s advice to me about the Champions Now game I am running, it strikes me that we have not had a similar kind of low key, cool, just-interacting-with-NPCs sessions in that game).
Since then we’ve had three sessions dealing with their adventures in Tourmaline, the capital of the Elven Empire. My prep for these sessions had focused on bringing some of the material from Meyouran’s background into play, while also developing some of the Unseelie vs Seelie elements from Chapter 1. I won’t go into all the ins and outs at this point, but I wanted to bring up an issue that came up (more an issue for me than for the game in general) about how we handled the Intuition skill.
Here’s what the text tells us about the Intuition skill:
Intuition gives characters a keen insight for no logical reason at all. A successful Intuition roll allows a character to sense the "rightness" or "wrongness" of a situation. Intuition allows the referee to provide a player with information and guidance that might otherwise be unavailable. Unlike most other skills, a player does not ask to use Intuition. Instead, the referee asks the player to make an Intuition roll when the situation calls for it. There are many cases when Intuition could come into play. The referee may ask a player to make an Intuition roll when he thinks something the character is about to do is extremely foolish or dangerous. He could call for an intuition roll to determine whether a character can sense he is being watched (the hair stands up on the back of his neck). It also can be used to ascertain whether or not a character realizes when he is about to enter a dangerous situation. If the players are badly frustrated and don't know what to do, ask them to make Intuition rolls. On a high roll, he could give them a hint that will get the adventure moving.
Frankly, apart from the use of this skill to sense if they are being watched, this does not really fit in with the way we are playing the game. That is, calling for Intuition rolls so that I can point them in “the right direction” doesn’t make sense, because there isn’t a “right direction”. However, Levspira’s player asked if he could have Levspira make an Intuition roll based on Levspira’s suspicion that the Unseelie court was still up to something. We looked over the skill, and I said, “okay”, in part because I wanted to try to find SOME use for the skill -- although I wasn’t, in that moment, thinking things through perhaps as carefully as I should have, i.e., I didn’t really have a good sense of what success or failure might look like prior to the roll.
Levspira succeeded - and, the thing is, based on my prep, there definitely was an Unseelie plot afoot -- but there was no obvious way to present that information to the players based on what had been established by the that point. I.e., they hadn’t actually seen/heard any of the things that might have triggered suspicion, there weren’t “clues” that they had missed. So, instead, I went back to what the text says, and said that, yes, Levspira, for no logical reason at all, you have the sense that the Unseelie court is up to something.
This ended up leading to the kind of “button pushing” behavior we’ve talked about occurring in certain D&D-type games: without more context, they didn’t know what to do, but I was unable to come up with a way to provide more context without them taking more action: a Catch-22 of my own making.
Things recovered pretty quickly, because the players are so proactive and almost any kind of action in Legendary Lives means things are going to happen and the situation will change. And, soon enough, there was more context to guide meaningful decisions. (I also had a number of NPCs at the ready to act on their own interests). But the brief period (about half of a session) of wheel spinning made me feel like we were trapped back in a stereotypically bad investigative scenario.
As a point of comparison, we haven’t had any kind of trouble along those lines with using Guidance miracles (which came up a bunch during the first Chapter). Superficially, that may appear to be similar to using Intuition, but with the Guidance miracle, the guidance provided is explicitly coming from the given god (i.e., an NPC with its own interests, motives, psychology) and so doesn’t have the same “rescue the GM’s plot” function that the authors seem to want Intuition to have. I don't want to junk Intuition entirely (as the PCs all are pretty strong in it), but I think I do want to keep it as something that only triggers in terms of immediate danger -- like a Spider sense.
A final topic for discussion: 12 sessions in, I don’t feel its my role as the Referee to give advice about what actions to take -- but it does seem that Levspira’s player has forgotten that she has the Divination skill. In the latest session, there were a number of opportunities where it seems like it could have been useful - namely, attempting to track down an artifact stolen from the Museum of Contraptions. They aren’t struggling with what to do -- they aren’t “stuck” -- but it seems like based on what they want, Divination would be a good way to go about it. What stopped me from bringing it up myself, even just as a reminder, is a fear that it makes it look like I am pushing them in a given direction. However, just writing this out, makes me think that if I suggest it, that doesn’t mean it will work, and as long as we play fair with the results it wouldn’t be a major problem. But I’m interested in opening that up to discussion: when is GM advice about “what to do” legitimate and when is it a case of putting your thumb on the scale?