Sagas of the Icelanders
Session 3

We finally got everyone together in one place for SotI last night: 5 total players, yikes! Busy table and it was dicey fitting the fifth and newest player in (she chose a Thrall) but I think it worked out fine.

Nobody is really moving their relationships around much each session, which is moving the creative load back to me to figure out new conflicts. I think everyone changed…one of them? And half of those were because an NPC they were aimed at had died. Not really sure how to prompt them to do more relationship updates, but I think we can keep it going as-is for at least a couple more sessions.

The most interesting thing to have happen is dead Sola’s huscarl (an NPC), returning from a’viking, and being immediately shamed by the Goði (a PC) and the huscarl throwing down right then and there to reassert his honor. Well…the Goði is pretty terrible at gendered rolls, so he utterly misses his physical challenge move. The huscarl, being an actual viking badass, does grave harm to the Goði. He fails that roll, too: it’s fatal, beyond help and the MC will say how and when.

Oho so that’s interesting, right? I spend one of the Norns’ bonds on the Goði:

“How could the gods get you to praise them as they wish?” I ask, because the Goði has been notoriously terrible about his religious duties.

This is the same Goði who previously prayed for an NPC’s death, mind you. He says “Save me! I’ll do anything!”

Well so I kind of go off-script on the moves here and continue. “The gods require justice in the matter of Sola’s death.”

Tough spot for the Goði. It’s his crazy niece who actually murdered her step-mom Sola, but she’s touched by the gods and it was the Goði, after all, who told the gods what he wanted. And Fura is his niece or/but more importantly maybe also his own daughter. So he tells the gods he’ll announce his own blame in the matter. Whatever happens, happens.

“So…would you consider being returned to life a gift?” I ask him. Well yes, of course. So I put another bond on the Goði and he awakens after being beaten to death by that huscarl.

Nobody watching even realized he was dead. Everyone saw him go down after a nasty haymaker, the bros are high-fiving and the women are tutting at the Goði’s glass jaw. And so he comes back, the only one to know what went down.

Well so a deal’s a deal. It all comes out and now there’s a massive realignment of loyalties and schemes.

He doesn’t know this, but of course “the MC will say how and when you die” hasn’t changed. The move’s the move; I’m keeping that in my back pocket. :devilhorns:

The Thrall is doing okay, but unfortunately in-fiction her owner was Sola, the murdered NPC. She didn’t take a relationship that way, instead with Fura, the psycho seiðkona, which is pretty awesome. But it does mean the Thrall is kind of at loose ends here. She’s got the “invisible among non-thralls” thing as well as the “not a tool” move, which is kind of the Thrall’s personal “tempt fate” but so, so loose. The longer I play the game the more critically I’m reading the rules — for example “when you act on your own goals” is crazy-loose. So, yeah, I do hope Gregor Vuga will consider a new edition at some point. Mostly the moves just need to be re-evaluated, tightened and maybe explained better here and there.

We’ll jump ahead to the fall next session.

Kickstarting the Manual of the Primes

I am very pleased to report that Sig: The Manual of the Primes is now LIVE on kickstarter!

Want to explore the Eternal Planes of Existence, from the arcane Plane of Lore to the lightning-shrouded Plane of Justice? Tempted to visit the Infinite Prime world, discovering the cultures within? Interested in daily life in the city between?

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Sagas of the Icelanders
Session 2

Well, the second session went pretty well I think. This was the first time I tried extending the game beyond a one-shot, and it was so interesting to feel my way around that.

Aesthetically, my goal is to make each session feel like a one-shot. I’m going to run one session per season, I think, with a major arc and finale for each. I’ve talked about how to run sessions like one-shots before, I won’t repeat it here (https://plus.google.com/u/0/+PaulBeakley/posts/YCSCoPPsW9Q).

We were down a player (the Man) and up a player, who chose the Wanderer. I’ve never had a Wanderer in play, so it was fun to see that play out. The Wanderer’s schtick is that he brings a Secret into the game, and when he reveals it he gets +1 ongoing until it’s accomplished. That feels like a short-term thing; I assume Wanderers perhaps move on, or just die, or whatever. Ours revealed his Secret, which was that he came to the settlement area to bring the gods back into their lives, that the Goði was (perhaps!) a poor priest (he is).

The reconfigured relationship map (https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/108389456990574514665/album/6376698696232691745/6376698694763004402?authkey=CNrgwZf3pNSBZw) worked well to simplify presentation. It made it really easy to plop the Wanderer into the corner and just draw big red lines as he established relationships in play.

So since this was a second session, I immediately felt how claustrophobic the starting situation was. Folks changed one or two relationships, but not IMO enough to really have “a new situation.” So I sent the story out of the village, with the young seiðkona — the goði’s niece/maybe-daughter, who he believes is “touched by the gods” and kind of can’t take care of herself — kidnapped by Danelander bandits in the hills above the homesteads. I know fuckall about Danish banditry in 900AD so I had to wing a lot. At that point the game largely ran itself: lots of 6- rolls gave me plenty of breathing room to build out the situation and inflict a couple Grave Harms as PCs chased the bandits into the woods. I’m really digging how quick and brutal and tense the rolls are; thankfully, none of my players put up any fuss when they’d, you know, Tempt Fate by chasing armed assholes into an ambush.

Mikael Andersson will be thrilled to hear that I got to put his Fate bond advice to use! After the goði tries to accost the bandits and gets a blade in the gut for his troubles, he’s left alone with his injury, slowly dying, while others run back to the matriarch for help (she’s an old woman, it’s gonna take some time to get back out to where he’s fallen). So the goði is laying there contemplating the night sky and I ask him: “What do you wish the gods would do? If they were listening right now, what would be on your mind?” (That’s me spending the Fate’s bond with him). The player laughs because, oh yeah, he’s definitely been scheming. And he knows that this is no-bullshit straight talk between players. He sighs and says “I really wish Sola would just die, so I can get her land.” Sola is the widow of his older brother, whose death kicked off the first session. There’s been some maneuvering to get the goði and Sola together, but that’s not in his plan at all. So here he is, at death’s door, still scheming. Marvelous.

The Wanderer character is interesting. The player playing him frequently picks up outsider/outcast type characters so I was not at all surprised when he chose The Wanderer. I think he kind of had it in his head that he was above the man/woman move rules, but he’s so not. Maybe my favorite PC-PC scene was where his character needed to save the goði’s life by providing some measure of first aid and couldn’t arrange for that to happen in private. Medicine is woman’s work! So both he and the goði are shamed before pretty much all the settlers. That scene really set up the rest of the session.

So the goði and wanderer, largely reasserting their honor after the medical fiasco, bring the old huscarl along back into the woods to retrieve the witch. The game has no particular support for journeys or, you know, adventuring, which I think is very much to its benefit: it makes me continue focusing on relationships and honor, where the moves are.

The rescue is largely uneventful, with good rolls and lots of forwards being put toward their efforts. I actually liked that it played out this way, because it got them thinking and working together a little more mechanically: they figured out how to line up multiple bonuses and mark their relationships to advance and all that. “The gods have answered our prayers!” says the goði when things line up so well. “The gods answer all prayers, uncle,” says his niece. “Sometimes the answer is no.”

Everyone gets home intact and they throw a feast. To celebrate her return and to hopefully protect her darling oldest granddaughter from future troubles, the matriarch presents to her a gift of a beautiful knife, paid for out of more than half her stash of silver. The matriarch’s player wants a mark and an alliance (it’s one of the matriarch’s moves, I like it very much) and now she has a bond with the seiðkona girl. There are a couple other interactions, mostly Sola making her moves toward the goði — also part of behind-the-scenes scheming between the old matriarch of the house and Sola to hook her up with the oldest surviving son.

Later that night, in the wee hours, the goði’s niece wanders back into his house. She’s holding her grandmother’s beautiful knife and is covered in blood.

“Fura! What are you doing out so late?” her uncle asks. “What’s going on?”

“The gods answer all prayers, uncle,” the seiðkona, touched by the gods, answers. “Sometimes the answer is yes.

I put an X through Sola’s box.

R-Map Revisioning
Sagas of the Icelanders

First shot is the raw results of the first session relationship questions. Second is all the same information, normalized into a more traditional family tree type arrangement.

I really like this process! Things that jumped out:

* It’s a more compact presentation. That highlights for me how claustrophobic the setting (currently) is.

* Doing the wives in blue highlights unexplained stubs for me to pull in later. Marriages are alliances between families after all.

* The red lines are the juicy bits, the “not boring” relationships like we talked about last week. Not as many as I thought! This reinforces for me that it’s the proportion of normal/factual and juicy connections that’s core to the secret sauce.

* Less clear to me now are the unstable triangles. When I’m doing the rough draft, they are literal triangles, you know? Rurik and Sven and Tyr. Groa and Rurik and Fura. And so on. It’s sort of there still, but it’s on me to recognize and remember the family tree relationships, who is whose uncle and aunt and stepmother and all that.

I think I may do a fresh revision every session. My butcher paper roll is plenty big.

Literally nothing tires me out more in game talk than the words “should” and “is.”

Except possibly “this was totally worked out years ago, here read this thread before you bring it up again.” Which is basically “is” but with more words.

Unexpected Implications
Weird SOTI Thing I Ran Into

I’m really scouring the Sagas of the Icelanders rulebook in a way I hadn’t before, looking to fill in where I didn’t really pay much attention to long-term play stuff. And I ran into the passage I’ve clipped to this post.

Now…Mikael Andersson did a great job of clueing me in on how to use the Norns’ bonds they can hold with the characters: get the players to answer honest questions via Look Into Their Heart and then act on it. Neat, I dig it. Kind of wish there were other RAW moves that allowed for Bond use (beyond help/hinder) and I’m contemplating custom bond-using moves, mostly to give the Norns more ways to spend them.

But what I hadn’t noticed is that NPCs can also have bonds on the PCs. Interesting! Very interesting. I mean it’s still the GM spending those bonds, but when Fura the Seiðkona, an NPC, looks into a PC’s heart with her bond, I assume the effect is basically the same, yeah? An honest answer from the player? That seems like it radically loosens up the bond economy for the GM. I assume also that whatever actions are taken on that information are taken by that NPC, so it’s a bit more constrained than, you know, reality itself conforming to your answers.

I assume, then, that NPCs can also give meaningful gifts and generate more bonds?

Which brings me to the possibility of the Norns themselves providing gifts to PCs? And gaining bonds with them? Kind of blows my mind but it seems neither RAW-illegal nor off-tone. So I think maybe Imma make that happen.

On the broader topic: I confess I get kind of a thrill when I discover mechanical implications like this. It’s almost “emergent” but it kind of isn’t either. It’s just a legal play that’s cool and doesn’t break the game. I feel like these sorts of discoveries are only available to me when I’m wearing my rules-evaluation hat. I know many players don’t actually own that hat.

I know some of that thrill comes from the bad old days of tearing apart games to “beat” them. You know, piece together some set of powers in Exalted to achieve infinite attacks or something. So I’m constantly checking myself, too, for tonal okay-ness when I start thinking through rules implications. There’s always a kind of dark cloud hanging over the thrill. I guess that’s what they call a guilty pleasure.

IGRC Con/PaulCon Talk

I crawled so far into my head about how I wanted to host my convention that I’d painted myself into a corner. I mentioned my difficulties to a non gaming friend over lunch and of course he offered the perfect, easy solution:

Just rent five hotel rooms.

Duh, right? This is how BBC does most of their private gaming. I have no idea why it didn’t occur to me.

So the space question, it appears, has been solved.

And now I think I’ve been using that question to not address the bigger meat of the thing, which is, what do I actually want to do with this event?

Obviously I can’t run everyone’s games but I can run one or two a day. I’d very much like to bring together good people so they can meet. I’d like to build in good break time to host non gaming stuff too: go to a fun restaurant or two, host a party at my house, whatever.

I mean…is this enough? Now I’ve got it in my head that I can’t get the critical mass together. But I won’t know until I commit to a date and space. Chicken and egg.

When you hear “Paul Con” or “Indie Game Reading Club Con,” what comes to mind? Let me know!