30 July, 2017

EttinCon Debrief (Part 1)

The convention I've been working toward for the past couple of weeks has now been and gone. Three sessions: two GMing, and one playing. Here's how it played out for me...

Session One: The Ballad of Jericho Julip.
This was a session GM'd by me. Running a twisted variant of Paul Tevis's "A Penny for my Thoughts". I actually wasn't sure about the best way to handle this session, I had a vague idea in mind, but couldn't work out the best way to address it. 

The premise of this session was a two part story, where each act was formed by characters who had been attacked by "Nether Shadows" who had wiped their memories. It basically played out in two iterations of "Penny". First with the characters in the mountains explaining...
  1. What their life was like before the adventure began
  2. How they became entangled in the machinations of the mysterious Jericho Julip
  3. What strange event happened on the way up the mountafin pass

The memory seeds fr the game were the traditional assortment of adventuring gear that fantasy characters might have on them...ropes, parchments, swords, shields, holy symbols, rations, etc. In each case, a player would pick a specific item, and it would be theirs...they would then link the item to the memory which was being elaborated. This followed the basic premise of the original game, with "Yes, and..." questions, followed by pairs of actions chosen by the player as they reconstructed their truth. 

One of the things I really need to rein in when I'm running this game is the length of questions and answers. The narrative control in the game needs to be snappy, fast, because otherwise one convoluted option will be forgotten as a second convoluted option is proposed. Having one or two players really get into their descriptions, while other players struggle to find the words can lead to an unbalanced play experience. This gets worse when a player feels that their leading questions and elaborate actions are their moment in the limelight, and their only chance to shine. This generates a nasty feedback loop where player after player tries to out-do one another. So I really need to control this aspect of play.

To change the pacing of the game (because otherwise things would have run over time), I cut the second act down from three questions to two.
  1. What happened on the way down the mountain?
  2. How did you betray the other characters to obtain Jericho's treasure?
  3. What final action did you take to ensure the treasure would be yours?
The whole idea of this s cond act was to turn the story into a "Lock Stock / Snatch" scenario. It didn't quite work out that way...but that's a factor of the way the earlier parts of the story unfolded.

The communal nature of narrative building in this game means that the evolving story is a wild beast that twists and turns in unpredicatable ways. We saw lycanthropy enter the story, a heist involving ancient texts stolen from a grand library, an arsonist assassin who killed a town of halflings, and a recurring theme as Jericho Julip rounded up the characters by beating them over the back of the head and shanghaiing then into his strange caravan of merchant traders, freaks and slavers. Players drew on elements of one another's stories to weave an interconnected tale where destiny pulled disparate characters together throgh threads of fate.

Apparently, as the tale unfolded, Jericho had lost his leg to a witch who carved his femur into a bone flute (in the possession of one of the characters), this bone flute was required to play one part of a three part tune, along with a music box (owned by another character), and a chant remembered by a secretive order of Monks. If drinkng from an enchanted chalice (picked by a different character again) while listening to the tune, a character enters a state of ethereal projection, where they can step into frozen fragments of time, and change the destiny of the world through consensus of their wills.

The moment they stepped into was a temporal fragment when two titanic creatures fought one another in a shattered landscape. The landscape was shattered through their blows and strikes against one another, the creatures were a dragon glistening with the colours of the rainbow, and the primordial ettin.  (The five players in the game were given the option of deciding who should win this battle by secret ballot...the dragon won 4-1). The primordial ettin was entagled in the dragon's coils, and like a boa constrictor, the dragon strangled and crushed the ettin... who exploded in a rain of stony shrapnel spreading for dozens of miles in every direction. Those fragments of stone would become the origins of the ettin race (figuratively and legendarily, if not literally).

This gave us the first location to be marked on the mega-map... Ettin Pass.
(also marked were "The Carrot Lands" in honour of our were-rabbit and his ancestral home)
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