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A Game of Trollbabe

I’ve been wanting to try Trollbabe for awhile, so was very pleased to get to try it recently with two fun players. I was the GM, first time running Trollbabe. Each of the players picked a different location, so I did my best to prep each one as the rules suggested. One player picked the Silent Forest, the other Kragg Keep.

For the first location, this is the sketch of what I came up with: The Silent Forest - silent because the birds don’t sing there (because of a hungry dragon). At the foothills of the Stumpy Mountains.

Who’s there?

  • Trolls live in the mountains and come down to the forest to forage for berries, nuts, fruits, and medicinal herbs. Occasionally eat humans.
  • Humans live outside and come in for some of the same reasons, including hunting. A human recently disappeared and a search party is trying to find him.
  • This human, Grandpa Gunnar, was eaten by a dragon, who just moved nearby and lives in one of the caves of chaos. I drew a map of the forest and added in some details, including groves and nearby caves. One I labeled as the Grove of Forever, a place most people didn’t come back from; time runs differently there. Most of the groves have draugr lying in burial mounds, with spells or magical plants keeping them bound.

 

Trolls: Hurrgle, Eery, and their sick daughter Anra

Humans: Rolf (human farmer/warrior, son of Gunnar), Oskar (13 year old boy), Inge (woman mage/farmer, sister of Rolf) looking for Grandpa Gunnar (currently being digested by dragon)

Stakes: a troll child, Anra, is sick, bitten by a poisonous snake. The only cure is foxfire leaf, a rare and powerful medicinal plant that grows in The Silent Forest, in a grove that’s difficult to get to. The lowdown: The trolls get access to the foxfire leaf and Anra lives, or they don’t get the leaf and she dies.

For the second location, this is the sketch of what I came up with: Kragg Keep - mostly ruins, with an ancient wizard tower in the center. In the Frozen North. Humans go in search of treasure, trolls mostly ignore it. Dangerous creatures lie within.

Who's there?

  • humans hunting for treasure
  • Troll too
  • giant crabs want to eat everyone
  • A jealous wraith guards the treasure at the top of the tower

 

Humans: Skarr (greedy, wants gold and treasure for luxuries, is a mage), Fergus (needs to pay debts, or a member of his family will be sold), Gunhilde (wants treasure so she can marry the guy of her dreams - Rolf)

Troll: Washu, loves Fergus' brother, Harald

Stakes: Washu, a troll, has been thrown out of her clan for claiming to love a human. She wants the magic amulet of true change, that can transform one to whatever they wish. Wanted by the troll, so she can become human and marry her true love, Harald. Humans also want whatever magic they can find. The lowdown: The troll gets the amulet and changes, or she doesn't and lives the rest of her days as a lonely exile.

Ok, so I started by asking the first player how they were entering the Silent Forest. They said from the south, and since that’s where the humans were coming from, I had the first encounter be with one of the humans.

Oskar, the teenage boy, was picking berries when Ilva the Trollbabe came across him. Alarmed at her horns, the boy bolted, preparing to scream for help. So immediately there was a social conflict, with Elva trying to catch the boy and persuade him not to panic. The player’s roll was successful, so I said the boy calmed down enough to listen to what she was saying. Ilva asked him what was going on, and why he was in the forest; he answered, telling her that his father and his aunt were looking for his grandfather, Gunnar, who they believed has either been captured or eaten by trolls.

Meanwhile, Sigrun took a boat to Kragg’s keep. The Land was covered with ice and snow, and it snowed heavily as she started walking inland. She heard the sound of a troll cry out in pain, and went to investigate. An obviously injured troll hobbled toward her, shouting at her to run away. Behind the troll came a giant crab, reaching for her with a massive claw. Sigrun rushed forward to help. She fought the crab successfully and forced it to retreat.

Back at the Silent Forest, Ilva convinces Oskar to lead her to his relatives. As they approach, adults Rolf and his sister, Inge, become very alarmed when they see Ilva’s horns, and draw their weapons, insisting she move away from the boy. Ilva starts another social conflict, with the intent of convincing them to trust her, and wins. They confirm Oskar’s story, that they are in the forest looking for Gunnar.

At Kragg’s Keep, Sigrun and Washu (the troll) take shelter from the storm. Washu confesses that she’s come to the keep in search of a particular magic item, the amulet of true change, which can change a troll into a human or vice versa. Washu has fallen in love with a human, and wants to change so she can be with him. The troll believes the item to be hidden in the Keep’s central tower. Sigrun offers to get the amulet for her, but Washu insists on coming. The player initiates a social conflict to convince Washu to stay behind, but loses.

In the Silent Forest, Ilva asks the group of humans about the Grove of Forever, an area I’d labeled on the map. They look puzzled, but tell her it’s a place no one goes, because most people who go there don’t come back. Ilva immediately decides she wants to go there, and asks them to accompany her; when they balk, she initiates a social conflict. She wins once again, so they agree to come with her to the grove.

At this point I start sweating, because I realize I’ve completely misled this player. He quite naturally thinks the stakes are the missing grandfather, and that the Grove of Forever is where they need to go, and neither of these things are correct. So what to do? Well, I thought of where the trolls were and what they were doing, which clearly would be looking for the plant that would cure Anra. Now, I realized that I hadn’t written down where the plant was, so a simple solution would be to just place the plant in the Grove of Forever.

I was a little hesitant in doing so, because I remembered what Ron said about how important it is to honor the backstory, and not to change it to ensure a particular outcome - if by doing so the GM removes agency/meaningful choice from the player, that’s a no-no, and not the kind of gaming I want. However I thought it was ok in this case, as I wasn’t interfering with the player’s choices in a bad sense, that I could see. Happy to hear other opinions and perspectives on this.

But let’s change this question a bit. Suppose I had established in my backstory that the foxfire plant was in another grove, say one to the north near the mountains. Suppose that I decided to change its location in response to what the player did. Would that be legit? Or, in what cases would it be legitimate?

To make the question more general, suppose that during play you realize the player thinks the stakes are something other than what you planned, and that the player’s idea is actually better and more interesting than yours? How to change things without falling into intuitive continuity?

Ok, back to Sigrun and the keep. Sigrun and Washu meet Gunhilde, who was scouting ahead of her group. Alarmed at the sight of the troll, Gunhilde threatens them, and a fight breaks out. Sigrun batters Gunhilde unconscious, but gets injured. They make their way into the central tower. Hearing the sound of humans coming towards them through the snow, they close and bar the doors to the tower.

In the Silent Forest, Ilva and the humans reach the Grove of Forever. Ilva enters the grove as the humans wait anxiously outside its borders. In the grove, Ilva sees a troll fumbling with something growing on one of the burial mounds. She asks the troll what its up to.

The troll tells her that his name is Hurrgle, and he is trying to pick leaves of this plant so that he can cure his daughter, but he can’t seem to get a grip on any of them. “Did you happen to eat an old man on the way here?” Ilva asks.

“No,” Hurrgle replies, “but I did see that dragon eat some old human on our way here from the mountains. Swallowed him in two bites. Never did like humans myself; no matter how you cook ‘em, they’re always stringy and tough.”

Ilva volunteers to try to pick the plant, and the troll steps aside. She tries to grab onto a leaf, but her fingers slide off. Simultaneously, she hears a voice in her mind: “who are you and what are you doing?”

“I am Ilva, and I need some leaves to help heal this troll’s child.”

“Nothing doing. If I give you some of my leaves, I lose some of my power - who then will keep the draugr within this mound from emerging?”

Ilva’s player initiates a social conflict, with the goal of convincing the plant to give up some leaves. She’s successful, promising that she’ll handle the undead, and gives a handful of foxfire leaves to the grateful troll. The mound then ripples and breaks open, as a draugr crawls out of it.

At the keep’s central tower, Sigrun and Washu climb the tower stairs as they hear someone smashing into the doors from below. At a landing, they stop as a skeleton gets to its feet, brandishing a sword and blocking their way. Sigrun’s player initiates a social conflict, trying to persuade the skeleton to let them pass. She weaves a compelling tale appealing to the skeleton’s sense of duty, and it lets them pass. They enter the top of the tower, and after a bit of searching find a hidden box. They open it, and the amulet is inside. However this triggers the notice of the old wraith who lives in these walls. The dark form steps out of a wall, pointing an accusing finger at them. “Thieves! You sought treasure, but you have found only death.” Below them, they hear the main doors crash open.

Back in the Silent Forest, Ilva has to fight for her life against the draugr. “You will stay with us here forever,” it croaks, as it reaches for her. This was a blow-by-blow fight, and Ilva won three rounds in quick succession, destroying the draugr. The troll goes back to his overjoyed family, while Ilva goes back to the humans to give them the bad news about Grandpa.

In the tower, the confrontation with the wraith is intense. Sigrun tries to convince the wraith to let Washu use the magic amulet just once, after which they’ll be on their way, but it’s a tough sell. She gets to within one die roll of being incapacitated. As the player made their final roll, I was really sweating. If Sigrun failed, there was no way to avoid dire consequences for both her and Washu. But the die roll was a success! The wraith reluctantly agrees, as the humans burst into the room. Sigrun successfully knocks them all out. In the process, they discover that one of them is the brother of Washu’s love interest.

Washu uses the amulet to become human, and then replaces it as promised. They carry the unconscious humans to their boat, and Washu decides to guide them back to land. Sigrun wishes her well.

In the Silent Forest, the humans are quite angry and distrustful of Ilva. They don’t trust what the troll said, but believe that Gunnar is dead. Ilva convinces them not to attack the trolls, and they leave the Forest, sad and angry, hating trolls.

Overall this was a very fun game, and I think everyone enjoyed it. Having two players with two different situations was an interesting challenge, but it worked. I think I’d be a bit overwhelmed with three or more players in three different locations; having to keep track of everything would be stressful for me in that case.

Narrating successes as the GM was a bit of a twist, I’m more used to narrating failures. I think with practice it would get to feel normal, though.

I did find that having to figure out the length of a conflict was a little bit distracting, it took me out of the fiction, but again this might be just a matter of practice. Similarly, we had to pause a couple of times to figure out exactly what type of conflict a particular goal was, but this was a typical “first time I’m playing this game” kind of thing. After another session or two of play I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t happen.

I was pleasantly surprised by how smoothly everything went, and how we naturally reached a climax in each story, without trying or planning to do so. My only real snafu was my setup of the Silent Forest; I think the stakes probably needed to be introduced earlier.

As always, I welcome comments and insights from everyone.

Department: 
Actual Play
Games: 
Trollbabe

Comments

Rod_A's picture

Hi, I played Ilva! Having run Trollbabe as GM several times earlier this year, it was fun to switch places.

One thing I should note on my own behalf is that I don't think you "misled" me, or that the concept of leading and misleading is even relevant -- by design, Trollbabes can follow their impulses and don't have a duty to "find the stakes" or anything like that. See pp. 88-89 on playing a Trollbabe -- or to go to the extreme example, note that pp.72-73 describe how to proceed if the Trollbabe just says "To hell with it" and decides to leave the adventure area -- it's not a failure state.

 

 

 

Dreamofpeace's picture

Hi Rod! It was great having you in the game.

Well, the Trollbabe can decide to leave the adventure, which might turn into an adventure of its own, but if successful in leaving, the game is over. Which is ok, but that's not quite what I was asking about. 

Similarly, yes the Trollbabe can choose to help or not help whoever they want. That's great, imo it's essential. But that doesn't really address my questions, unless there's something I'm not understanding.

 

Ron Edwards's picture

Manu, I think there is something you're missing, or perhaps adding: the entire "method" of the Stakes in a Trollbabe adventure. I say "I think" because I am not a mind-reader, and I can only go by what you've written so far, but this is my only possible interpretation of the question you're asking.

It looks to me as if you felt the trollbabe, in the fiction, should be directly affecting the Stakes. Therefore when the character's actions veered far away from anything to do with them, you felt the need to apply some back-story corrective, effectively shifting your prep into her path by adjusting the prepared Stakes' content a little.

Before I continue with any more harsh language, and in case I'm on a wrong road to start with, am I misinterpreting what you thought and did?

Dreamofpeace's picture

Hi Ron,

Well whether the Trollbabe decides to affect the stakes would be up to her, I would think. But my assumption was they should at least know what the prepped stakes were. In this case it was halfway through the game and because of how I started it, the player knew nothing about them, which is why I felt pressure to put the troll in the grove, so they could at least find out about the sick child. What the Trollbabe wanted to do about it would then be her choice. 

Ron Edwards's picture

Suspicions confirmed. OK, we'll go in order.

  1. The players know nothing about the Stakes, they never do, and never will. The Stakes are a private GM tool strictly for shifting into the "winding down" part of the session.
  2. The players and/or trollbabes are under no obligation or, better, any tacit understanding that they should interact directly with or directly resolve the Stakes.
  3. The content of the Stakes may be "obvious" in the GM's eyes, in terms of how they're played, but they are not played any differently in terms of quality or importance from any other aspect of the situation.
  4. The Stakes will flip one way or another, either depending on something a trollbabe does or on their own if she/they do nothing involved with them, eventually.

In other words, the Stakes are the exact opposite of "the goal of the scenario." They merely exist, and they will resolve during play, influenced by the trollbabe(s) or not, and that's it. There may be many other things happening as well, and whatever the trollbabe(s) does (do) might introduce plenty of other content or conflicts as well.

In many cases, the Stakes' contents are directly affected by the trollbabe(s). When the situation of the Stakes is changed enough by conflicts, then the GM will finish out the session following whatever is immediately at hand for the trollbabes, and be done.

Therefore if the players take their trollbabes' interests significantly away from directly affecting the Stakes, that is no big deal, and the GM's job at that point is to resolve the Stakes as seems most logical given their components' situation at the moment. Then he or she will finish out the session following whatever is immediately at hand for the trollbabes, and be done.

Let me know what you think of that.

Dreamofpeace's picture

 

Ok, let’s see if I’m following this:

- It doesn’t matter what the player thinks the Stakes are, or if they even have the concept of Stakes.

  • Their Trollbabe may or may not interact with the Stakes, directly or indirectly. They may not even know about them.
  • The Stakes will resolve regardless of whether the Trollbabe knows or interacts with them.
  • The Stakes are not the goal of the scenario.

Is that correct so far?

Ok, so then my question becomes why have Stakes at all, instead of just focusing on locations and NPCs. In the game text you wrote, “Every adventure is about its Stakes, and that’s your target...it is your job to de-stabilize their unclaimed status again and again, always working with whatever just happened in play” (p. 87). So the Stakes are simultaneously not the goal of the adventure *and* what the adventure is about. That’s an interesting tension; I’m guessing that this means the Stakes are not the goal for the *player*, but are what the adventure is about for the *GM*. Is that right?

You mentioned above that “The Stakes are a private GM tool strictly for shifting into the "winding down" part of the session.” So I went ahead and reread the section on the “screwdown”. So what I’m getting is the Stakes are what’s important for the NPCs (or at least some of them?), serving as a guide for the GM to help determine what they do. Finally, when the Stakes are resolved, that determines the end of the adventure.

So it’s theoretically possible for the GM to be creating a story that’s almost completely separate from what the Trollbabe is doing, right? But only the GM knows about it until the game ends. For example, suppose Ilva had ignored or evaded the humans, gone to the grove of forever, dug up a draugr for the hell of it, and then left. Meanwhile the troll family and humans would have had a conflict, and the child would have been saved or not, but all “off-camera”. The player would only find out about it in the aftermath. I suppose such an outcome must be possible if the player is to have full agency, however weird it might seem at first glance.

Ron Edwards's picture

(Part 2 of 2)

What I'm not writing is, "Ah ha, you played the game wrong!!" as a gotcha. Ordinarily, the learning curve should be honored as a good thing, and whatever happens the first session or sessions, is "ungraded," as it were.

What makes this different? Why am I nailing this instance down for dissection, at the risk of actual feelings?

The dialogue of this site and the Patreon for over two years has exposed just how deeply the control vs. readiness issue is embedded into practices of play. I've seen it especially in the Sorcerer games reported and recorded here, unsurprisingly, and knew it would be central to designing Champions Now (it was).

Control = making sure that actions and outcomes turn out as desired. Note that preparatory planning is not the issue, or rather, that planning for results (which usually involves strong-arming in play) is a fairly crude form of control. The same applies to fudging reslution mechanics - yes, it qualifies as control, but is not an especially interesting or insidious version.

Let's consider the primary, most tempting, and most easily self-justified forms of control, all of which involve shifting around "reserved" content (Authority one happens to have) just ahead of player-stated actions. Anything counts: locations, persons, prior fictional events, things, quantitative feaures, emotions, relationships, and more.

One might even have standards for which fictional things they won't do it with, or how, and thus feel pride in not being a railroader, failing entirely to perceive their control over other categories of fictional things.

Examples are so many and so various that I can't list them without making a false model because I'm not covering the whole breadth. Let's stay with this instance of play because of the rules focus on a particular set of reserved content, the Stakes in Trollbabe.

The first task is to ask why. I can answer for myself, at least, It is very, very easy to perceive control as a benevolent contextualizer for "how play is going." After all, it is true that before X happens in play, preparation for X is just prep, it's not "real" until the reservation of information is over and the information is now shared. Or why not throw out preparation entirely and just do "X" when it needs to be real anyway. During play, a person who is committed to having things "turn out right" (including me, not saying otherwise) cannot see harm in doing this.

I just did it several times in a D&D 5th edition session with my kids, which I'll be posting about soon. And "what's the harm," right? The point was to have fun with my kids, right? Why not use their cues - based on genuine excitement and interest - as cues for what's happening, or what "really" happened in the backstory, or how many hit points that creature actually has, if it's "the right time" for it to be defeated? Surely it's better than shoehorning them into some canned sequence and saying "you can't do that" over and over?

The answer to this conundrum is that I'm not talking about "harm" particularly,in terms of fun at the moment. I'm talking about whether plot actually happens due to the genuinely interactive and systemic features of play - basically, whether those systemic features and their function as "how do we make and know what happens" are true. Whether the tools/things we're using are actually working devices or instruments, or, as I've written and said many times, some of us are holding disconnected plastic versions and making "brrm brrm" noises while one or more others have the real deal hidden somewhere.

The second task is to examine how the Stakes in Trollbabe are disconnected from control. That's what my numbered list above is about. They are indeed part of preparation, and whatever happens to them serves as a signal for the GM to start closing out the session, attending only to whatever might be immediately facing a trollbabe or whatever she's in the middle of doing. Significantly, "whatever happens to them" is due either to trollbabe action or inaction toward them, and there is no reason for a trollbabe player to care about them any more than anything else the player has experienced and perceived.

Therefore not only are the Stakes not tagged as necessarily important to the players, they should not be tagged as important to the GM either, not even in terms of getting the trollbabe(s) to see them, much less care about them. They are only important as a session framing technique, and are wide open in terms of what might a trollbabe might do that affects them, and how they might turn out with or without any trollbabe directly acting upon them.

[It's not hard to see the influence of Trollbabe on Dogs in the Vineyard. But there is a critical difference: the Dogs are there to "save the town," however badly or inexpertly or dramatically. I'd like to follow up with a separate discussion of the difference, and the nuances inside each game in light of the contrast, at a later time.]

Manu, what I'm hoping for is some reflection on your perception that the players should know or at least accurately guess what the Stakes are, in a session of Trollbabe. Not as an exercise in castigation ("Now you sit there and think about what you did!!") but as a look at a system which says X, but instead, Y seemed to you to be exactly what it said. Y clearly has a purpose for you, to the extent that doing without it was simply not in your range of vision, at least not at that moment. And I'm not saying that your purpose for it is necessarily a bad or sinful or "not-Ron-approved" thing. The question is, what is that purpose?

The question after that is, what does play using X, not Y, look like? Is X merely what you could have done but didn't, because Y seemed obvious? Or is X unknown territory?

Ron Edwards's picture

Grr, the accidental real-time role of this exchange is not helping. My two posts above are intended as a unit, but they were interrupted by sleeping, and your reply came in the middle of them due to simultaneity ... oh well, let's try to stay with it.

Briefly: there is no benefit at this point to further processing "so what are the Stakes for then" or any other verbal question. I have a zillion things to say to respond to what you've just asked or stated, but I am convinced that talking about this topic is counter-productive, especially since Trollbabe is right there in action for you to pursue. It is not withholding to say, just do it this way and see - it is the only viable option and the very best course of action.

After that, I'll be ready to continue, and not ignore your comment with its questions at all.

Dreamofpeace's picture

First, no worries about feelings, I don’t have much ego about this stuff, and I posted this precisely in order to get more feedback and insight.

Therefore not only are the Stakes not tagged as necessarily important to the players, they should not be tagged as important to the GM either, not even in terms of getting the trollbabe(s) to see them, much less care about them. They are only important as a session framing technique, and are wide open in terms of what might a trollbabe might do that affects them, and how they might turn out with or without any trollbabe directly acting upon them.”

Ok, I get that the Stakes shouldn’t be important to the GM, in the sense that the GM should be impartial about how they turn out, or whether they even come up explicitly in play; but they are of course important to the NPCs, as their attitudes provide the fodder for the scene framing. Correct?

Manu, what I'm hoping for is some reflection on your perception that the players should know or at least accurately guess what the Stakes are, in a session of Trollbabe. Not as an exercise in castigation ("Now you sit there and think about what you did!!") but as a look at a system which says X, but instead, Y seemed to you to be exactly what it said. Y clearly has a purpose for you, to the extent that doing without it was simply not in your range of vision, at least not at that moment. And I'm not saying that your purpose for it is necessarily a bad or sinful or "not-Ron-approved" thing. The question is, what is that purpose?”

What is the purpose of Y? I assume by Y you mean my (wrong) assumption that the players should know or be guided to knowledge of what the Stakes are. The purposes I would have articulated are: (1) since what happens with the Stakes determines when the adventure ends, it would seem disempowering and unfair if the players didn’t know the Stakes - they wouldn’t be able to knowingly influence the outcome, they might inadvertently end the adventure without knowing or intending to; (2) this one gets to your point about control: if the player doesn’t know the Stakes, and the Stakes are what’s important, then they might spend hours wandering around doing unimportant and boring things, instead of attending to the fascinating and interesting prep I did :) So yes, it’s to exert some measure of control over play, in this case motivated partly by a desire to keep things fun, and partly by a desire to have my time and energy (i.e., my prep) be appreciated.

The question after that is, what does play using X, not Y, look like? Is X merely what you could have done but didn't, because Y seemed obvious? Or is X unknown territory?”

Probably some of both. Certainly Y seemed obvious, because of my own conceptual bias; I mean we all read or look at things with certain preconceived, unconscious filters in place, so when I see a word like “Stakes” and phrases like “that’s what the adventure is about”, I’m going to see it as: look, this thing is very important, it decides when the adventure ends, so of course the players need to know about it so they can make meaningful decisions. It takes some work to get around those conceptual filters.

Whether X is actually unknown territory I’m not sure. It’s certainly unknown in the sense that I’ve never consciously thought about my actions while GMing in those terms: “these are the Stakes, it doesn’t matter if the players know”. However, I think I have GMed like that or close to it some of the time, including in D&D.

Briefly: there is no benefit at this point to further processing "so what are the Stakes for then" or any other verbal question. I have a zillion things to say to respond to what you've just asked or stated, but I am convinced that talking about this topic is counter-productive, especially since Trollbabe is right there in action for you to pursue. It is not withholding to say, just do it this way and see - it is the only viable option and the very best course of action.

After that, I'll be ready to continue...”

Eh, well the problem with “Trollbabe is right there” is, it really there, if I’m misinterpreting it? Regardless, it’ll be a while before I can try Trollbabe again (real life intrudes). Much thanks for your replies!

 

 

Ron Edwards's picture

Manu, I'll leave it with this thought: the text you've quoted from p. 87 refers to the important job of the GM, regarding the Stakes. It does not refer to a players' job, and is set apart from the players' section on p. 88 for that reason.

This isn't legalistic logic-chopping; it's a big deal. The GM must attend to the Stakes and define how he or she does next relative to them. But that is not the players' problem and it isn't directed toward "giving" or "showing" the players anything. The GM pays attention to how the Stakes are affected by trollbabes' actions or inactions; that's their job and how they should think about the adventure.

You are, I think, identifying adventure with story. That is not the case. The story is strictly a retrospective term, what happened after the adventure is played, and it is not the adventure as we are experiencing and playing it. Therefore, no, the Stakes are not important to the story. They are important to playing the adventure from the GM's point of view and nothing else.

I think this is a big topic for you, and I repeat, I do not think it is accessible or meaningful until you actually do it. I recognize that you may have in the past with other games, that's fine, but to do it now is critical. If Rod and the others can't play another session with you, I would like to.

noah_t's picture

Hi! I played Sigrun in this tale.

The main reason "we had to pause a couple of times to figure out exactly what type of conflict" we were engaging was my own inexperience with the system. Rod was generous about quickly jumping in and clarifying the finer points of the conflict rules for me when I needed it.

I enjoyed the game immensely. Manu played his characters in entertaining, memorable ways. I leaned hard on She-Ra and the Princesses of Power in Sigrun's approaches to conflict, and was honestly surprised at how such a spare rule system felt so evocative. I changed Sigrun's Number at around the halfway point of the tale, and that decision deeply informed the character for the rest of the game.

From the player's perspective, I was a fan of the GM narrating success. I often feel (barring some unexpected twist of the dice) that narrating success can feel a little redundant⁠—I already described success while declaring intent! Seeing where Manu took my intent with further description was a lot of fun. One particularly memorable narration from Manu had the giant crab's eye-stalks swiveling around to look into Sigrun's face, an image that still makes me shudder in the best way.

I know, Manu, that you said "you were really sweating" as we played that final conflict. But I think it's a testament to the strength of the game's prep procedures (and the Stakes that you dreamed up) that I kinda wish Sigrun had blown that climactic roll. A second session where Sigrun woke up on the boat with Skarr and Grunhilde and had to deal with mixed-up human family dynamics sounds delightful.

This discussion has suggested a resolution to my own confusion about stakes. I was fuzzy about the role of stakes and how they inform NPC motivations. NPCs are supposed to be "grabby" trying to get the Trollbabe involved, but I always struggled with giving the NPCs a reason to grab the Trollbabe.. 

I missed harnessing the purpose of of stakes. After reading this thread, I reread the "what" paragraph on page 17 of the rules. Lo and behold! The purpose of stakes is clear: "you now make up some person, or possibly a place or thing, which other characters want."

I think the concept of The Now, from Champions Now, made this finally click for me. Stakes are what The Now is about. 

This dispels any confusion I had about what my NPC's motivations are about. I see now that, regardless of what the Trollbabe is doing, the NPCs are pursuing the what: "They may want to possess it, destroy it, exalt it, whatever, but as far as they are concerned, it belongs to them."

So if the Trollbabe latches on to something else in the scenario and pursues that, the NPCs carry on resolving their own conflict about the stakes. And if the Trollbabe's actions have consequences for the stakes, even if the Trollbabe doesn't realize it, it influences how the stakes are resolved. 

I think I want to GM this game again soon.

Hi! I have a question about this: "When the situation of the Stakes is changed enough by conflicts, then the GM will finish out the session following whatever is immediately at hand for the trollbabes, and be done.

Therefore if the players take their trollbabes' interests significantly away from directly affecting the Stakes, that is no big deal, and the GM's job at that point is to resolve the Stakes as seems most logical given their components' situation at the moment. Then he or she will finish out the session following whatever is immediately at hand for the trollbabes, and be done."

GMing Trollbabe I have seen a few times adventures where the Trollbabe(s) ignored the stakes and pursued a totally different  interest, and by doing so the stakes were resolved rather quickly ("the boy lives or dies? The trollbabe ignores the execution, he dies early in the beginning of the session"). By the letter of the rules at that point the GM should wrap up the adventure rather quickly... but in this way you have to cut short the trollbabe chosen interest.
IF you do it, the choices seems between two ways to cut it short:
1) The "OK, you win" method: you simply give the trollbabe what he wanted "OK, you wanted to kill the duke, you do it, easy, nobody noticed you, the end"
2) The "fade to black" method: "you wanted to kill the Duke, but sadly, we have no more time for this adventures, maybe you did, maybe you didn't, we will never know"
I don't like either choice, so I usually do a third thing:
3) Play the adventure like any other, ignoring the stakes (meaning: the adventure doesn't end when they get resolved), and this can mean sometimes playing a lot of scenes for hours after the stakes ware resolved.
Even if it has problems of its own, i like this third option better, but I don't know if am following the rules or not by doing that. How "immediate" we should consider that "immediately" in the rules?

Ron Edwards's picture

Hi Moreno!

It is very very rare that written English can cause trouble for you, and I do not feel quite right taking the role of instructor (you are probably qualified to teach native English speakers better writing). But in this case, there is an understandable misunderstanding. The good news is that the actual question about play is easy to resolve.

You are reading “immediately” in terms of real time for the real people. Whereas I am using it in a different sense, to mean limiting the content of play to the information that is currently available, whether known to everyone or only the GM, either way. That’s what “immediately at hand” means – it refers to being present, here, and happening, and has nothing to do with “finish right way.”

Fortunately, that means that neither your #1 or #2 are necessary, which is good because I agree with you that they are terrible.

Therefore play itself can go on as long as you want, but the constraint is to avoid making up a whole new scenario from scratch, with effectively new Stakes and complex relationships around them. The content should be only as complex as it stands at that moment of play when the Stakes are resolved (“over there” somewhere).

Play may well be short in this context, but it doesn’t have to be, depending on the content that is currently “immediately at hand.” I personally don’t see a shorter session as a problem, but since it’s not obligatory, we don’t have to debate or resolve that difference of opinion.

Got it, thanks!

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