We’ve played two more sessions of Worlds Without Number. After the first session, one of the players had to drop out—the player who had recognized my prep at the end of the first session and had me scrambling to prepare something else. I decided, since I liked what I had previously prepped (The Tower of the Stargazer), and since he wouldn’t be playing, to stick with that. I don’t know what to say about this second session, other than that it was excellent. The players poked and prodded and explored, finding fun stuff like a cloak of Courser fur (horse-sized lions that some have been known to tame) that the Warrior-class bruiser Demitri immediately donned, a basement full of bones weirdly categorized, and a diary from an apprentice writing about how cruel and mad the wizard had gotten of late, i.e., 60 years ago.
They made it about halfway through the Tower as we ended the session. We went three hours and I could have easily gone a couple more.
Between that session and the next, the player who had to drop out (Torix’s player) was able to come back. Which was good, but also presented a problem: he knew the contents of Tower of the Stargazer, but the other two players already had their characters fully embroiled in the tower and its situation, so there’s no changing anything that’s been established (luckily, one fun thing in the module had not been established, and since Torix’s player knew what that thing was, I was able to change that into something I am excited to bring to play, if they ever poke at it—in the third session, they didn’t). I was pretty happy with the solution I came up with: since we had thought Torix was out of the game for the foreseeable future, we had previously established that his failed Administer roll to dig through archives and find a quick, safe way to the tower had gotten him into some sort of trouble, and the other two characters happily went off without him. In this case, since he’d be returning, I made a slight change to the outcome of that roll: He failed, and in so doing, was detained for a day or so, but before getting caught he had found documents detailing the layout of the tower and scribbles on some of its features. Basically, anything that Torix’s player remembered about the tower, or half-remembered, or mis-remembered, was now information Torix had, such that joining his companions in the tower wouldn’t be a lame exercise in “playing”, trying to fake like he doesn’t know what’s coming.
I then left it up to Torix’s player – he was free to join the session or not, knowing this is what was happening (I told him that they were in the Tower of the Stargazer). He opted to play, saying he didn’t remember a huge amount, anyway.
And we had another really good session. The funny thing is, Torix never once brought up any knowledge of the tower. Whether the player really didn’t remember basically anything important, or whether he was holding back, I’m not sure. I’m not saying he played incorrectly; however he wanted to handle that situation was his own prerogative. I was just surprised, since I spent some tortured time trying to come up with my solution to the dilemma above (or what was a dilemma to me, and maybe no one else).
They made their way up and down the tower, judiciously avoiding the secret at its heart (voices behind a door, arguing about whether to stay silent or call out to the PCs) while making smart use of acid to avoid some puzzles and traps and straight burn their way to chests full of the plastic-y pebbles the peoples of the Latter Earth use for currency. Then they GTFO. I have a feeling they’ll return; Fincules the mage passed on an opportunity to gamble his soul for a chance at esoteric knowledge, and I know he wants to give that a try. They may try to make the tower their own, eventually. The point is, they still have some exploring of it to do, if they want, but they have for the moment done well for themselves.
They go back to town, which we have variously described as a town, a city, and a village – we haven’t really seen it in action yet. It’s kinda small, but also the center of the nascent army for the Marklands. Anyway, they are all concerned about bringing thousands of pebbles of wealth into this relatively small social sphere, and perhaps being made targets because of this. So they kibbutz about what to do: let’s leave immediately after we rest a couple days (recovering some System Strain they’ve taken on their journey), let’s just buy some basic equipment, let’s hire some people out, let’s tell no one what we’ve found (Demitri tells his mother, whom he lives with), let’s contact some authority around here to see if they can ensure our protection, etc.
It’s all well and good as a discussion, but pretty quickly it becomes a haze of uncertainty: what’s actually happening, who is actually doing what? Torix’s player wanted to use his Administer skill to see if he knew perhaps some underworld organization that would take money in exchange for a few days of protection. Before I could adjudicate whether this was an appropriate use of this skill, or whether he should be rolling something else for that (I’m still getting used to the particular breakdown of activities-into-skills that WWN uses), he rolled and declared it a failure (it was a 3 or something on 2d6) before I had set a number or we really had even established what was going on in the fiction.
I was flustered at this, trying to determine what his roll meant while fielding questions from the other players and trying to figure out what they were doing. Torix’s player had taken his roll as something that had happened, even though fictionally we had no idea what happened. I had taken his roll as something that had not happened, in terms of anything relating to play. Regular Adept Play contributors will probably assume this, but let me be clear: I am not, in this write-up, berating Torix’s player for “bad” or “improper” play or anything of the sort (the kind of thing you see online all the time, supposedly a question about how to handle a game situation but really it’s a way of trying to validate feelings and win a behavioral argument: “What do I do with a player who does Y?”). We had a moment of procedural confusion, and I think it’s because we’re still feeling out how exactly we are handling procedure and mechanical engagement at the table, as players, together, and how that stuff feeds into the fiction.
Eventually it came to this: the Mage/Expert Fincules wanted to secure a promise from an authority figure in town that they would be free to do their business without any harm coming to them, even if they flashed a little more wealth than normal. Before we resolved this, I took a moment to back up and state that before anything fictionally could be established by Torix’s roll, we had to establish what he had been trying to do. I was trying to make sure he had agency around his roll; I didn’t want to handwave it away due to the procedural confusion above. I was giving him leeway to establish what he was doing and make a roll. But he wanted to move on; again, he stated that he had “failed anyway.” So we moved on.
Having clearly established what Fincules was trying to do, I called for a Connect roll, and established stakes before the roll (this is not a part of the rules-as-written of WWN, but in any sort of task-based d&d-like I find it’s a good procedure to make a part of the rules-as-we-play-them). We haven’t had a lot of cause to do this, yet, as there simply weren’t a lot of rolls in the tower. I stated that if he succeeded on his roll, he would be able to find the gruff ex-army magistrate Carys who mostly oversaw matters of law in the town, and Carys would grant that extra eyes would be put on the party to ensure they’d be able to carry out their lawful business as they saw fit. If he failed, I said, then he’d find the same person, but he’d require a bribe of 1000sm to ensure the same thing (about 1/7th of their haul from the tower).
He made the roll, and I described Carys sitting on a marble stool in front of a little broken marble gazebo (? it was the best description I could come up with) in the middle of town, where he often sat to watch the goings-on of people, with his sword across his knees, assuring Fincules of what we’d established. And we ended the session there.
It was a good moment, a refreshing moment, because we came out of the mire of procedural confusion and established something clearly, and in a way that I think made clear how this kind of stakes-setting for skill rolls works in a game like this, which I don’t think was clear to everyone at the table. I even had to reiterate a couple times, after the game, that due to his successful roll, Fincules got what he wanted; he got the stakes we had set, and even I in all my cosmic power as “the” GM could not contravene it. Later on, after everyone had gone home, Demitri’s player made a quip on discord, kind of a joke, kind of not, about wanting to buy something in town, but worried it would put the locals on notice. I reiterated that due to Fincules’s successful roll, he had secured the protection of the local law for their business for the next few days.
Next session we’re adding a fourth player, a pure Expert class. For the record, we’ll then have: Warrior, Mage/Expert, Warrior/Expert, Expert.