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My first game of HotB (advice welcome)

PostPosted: Sun Jun 24, 2012 3:16 pm
by Tshanja
In case anyone is interested, I thought I would post a recap of a session I ran with some friends of mine when we didn't have enough people to play our *usual* RPG. Things were rushed, and I probably made some mistakes, but we ran with it, and it worked out well.

There were three players, none of whom had any knowledge of what HotB was, or the background fluff on the Ven, or anything, but I had been talking about the mechanics and they were all interested in seeing how that sort of game played out.

Since it was kind of short notice, we decided to cut some parts of character creation. Basically, we only did steps 1, 2, and 3 of the book. Then we jumped right in. My reasoning was that this would give us enough to start playing with the rules and see how we liked them. If they liked them enough to want to play again sometime, I could introduce them to the rest of the rules by using "Step C" from the Cornets book and have them build up their domains, devotions, etc together. I think that was a wise decision. Otherwise I would have spent most of the night introducing them to rules that were not going to come up on their first Story anyway.

I did go over a quick and dirty version of the setting, and at least when into detail about the Houses, the Laws, and some of the Ven customs i could dredge up while they were thinking about aspects and other character creation stuff.

The players really liked the idea of rolling for background elements (which I would not have expected from them) and they pretty much just ran with what it said. They rolled randomly for their parents houses, and limited their selection of house to one of those two (or in one case, that one house) - even though I pointed out that they had points they could use to nudge some of those dice rolls if they wanted to be from a different house. One was a male Blooded of the Bear, whose aspects described him as a large guy who tends to always give everyone the benefit of the doubt (which was really mostly a disadvantage). Another was a male Blooded of the Wolf who was a skilled duelist. He happened to be the only one who rolled to be married, and decided to take an aspect about his wife's love for him. I briefly mentioned that if we were using the full rules, she would be more appropriate as a Spouse vassal with her own aspect about loving him... but since we were not I was happy to let it go - the tag and compels basically hinted that his wife loved a lot of guys, if you know what I mean, which I thought was great. The third character was a female Blooded of the Serpent, who defined herself (using aspects) as someone who didn't really like the secrets and forbidden no-no stuff going on in her family, but who was loyal to the family and duty bound to not reveal it... but she wanted the information to come to light.

Aspects were probably the hardest part of introducing this foreign ruleset to a bunch of D&D gamers, but the examples in the book helped - and we generally coalesced around what I thought sounded like reasonable aspects with tags, invokes and compels. It was also okay that we spent a lot of time here, since this was really the part where they customized and defined their characters. They seemed to like the idea of taking a character and trying to describe it with a few sentences or traits.

I also tried the example given in the book of establishing a basic premise to set the scene, and then just let the characters run with it and fill in the details. I think I said something along the lines of: "You all find yourself at a Wedding, which will follow a lot of the rules of Parties that we can get into later. Basically, the Ven treat this as an opportunity not only to honor the new couple, but to meet, to trade, to make contracts, to Romance, and to Duel." My idea was that this would be a great opportunity to introduce whatever subsystem they seemed interested in at the time slowly, over the duration of the wedding and the reception afterwards. They took it from there, and did a good job.

Immediately they wanted more details, so I asked them to participate in wisdom risks everytime they asked a question that would be background knowledge "Why were we invited? Whose wedding?". Then they took turns making up their own answers and expanding on them. One of the first things someone wanted to say was that this was the wedding where the one married PC marries his wife - and it wasn't the PC who had the wife, so this gave me the opportunity to explain that the players can make up facts and have them be true, but if they make up facts about another PC - like this - they have to offer up Style to the PC. If the other PC is a good sport, he gets the style. If he wants to refuse, he has to pay that much style, and so on. The PC was a good sport and liked the idea of the wedding being his wedding. The Serpent character decided that his wife was her sister, and that's why she was there. The Bear had taken the Wolf as a Contact, and decided that they knew each other because he had a been a foster brother to the wolf (or a ward or some such) growing up - so it made sense that he, too, would be at his foster brother's wedding.

We never actually got to the wedding ceremony (we wrapped it up as it was beginning), but (thanks mostly to the imaginations of the players) there was nearly a duel between the Groom and a rival for his Bride-to-Be's heart, there was a scandal when the Groom's older brother arrived with his Wife (they were in the middle of a messy divorce and didn't want to make a scene of it, but one of the other players decided she wanted to wed the older brother and made a scene out of it). There was an Insult contest (between the Groom's older brother, and the PC who had intended to win his heart). There was also some hints of something dangerous being expected by many of the guests (everyone's personal guards were in attendence, everyone was armed, seated by their allies, positioning themselves - with Prowess - tactically in the Hall, etc).

Afterwards I asked how people liked the game and system, and overall it was favorable.

Two main complaints came up that I think I can address (but would love some advice on).

1. Cunning and Wisdom seemed way too useful. Beauty was third, and Strength, Courage, and Prowess seemed (almost) unnecessary. I attributed some of that to the kind of scenario they were in (a social event, where they had to create a lot of the new facts, and where fighting would have been unusual) but I have read a lot of similar posts on this forum, so I wasn't entirely surprised that they came to the same conclusion. I pointed out that Beauty would have covered most any social interaction with the other guests, as well as creating or performing art (they didn't see the point of that, but we hadn't gotten into much of the fluff or rules yet). I pointed out that Prowess almost came up before the Duel had been averted, but conceded that it is the sort of roll you don't make often, but when you do its probably life or death. Similarly, the PC did make a courage roll when first challenging the other guy to a Duel, so it came up, but just seemed less awesome. Lastly Strength was less likely to come up here than in a more action-y scenario, but tried to give some examples of when Strength might have been used. The general impression they walked away with, however, was that those stats were good in that order. The ability to say your character just "remembers" something as true, and make it true is pretty awe-inspiring. The ability to kill that character with a single thrust of your sword is slightly less so.

One player guessed that virtues like strength and prowess would be more useful if we were using more of the complete rulesset. He imagined things like exploring and leading armies to be tests of Strength and Prowess, where a tactically-minded leader would do a better job at directing his armies (erm, personal guards) around. Sadly, I don't think that's the case. I'm not SUPER familiar with the Season Action rules, yet, but from what I read, Cunning is the only Virtue that seems to matter at all, there - making it even more of a god-stat.

Would love to get some advice on how to make these other virtues shine more, so when we return to this I can say with a straight face that Strength is a valid virtue to have at 5.

2. The players seemed to grasp the idea of aspects and rolling for privilege just fine, but in the game, they often found themselves wanting to use their aspect (or virtues) to put someone else at a disadvantage, rather than to try to gain advantage or gain privilege themselves. I'll give an example, and explain how I handled it, but I'd love to hear some other ideas. At one point, a PC attempted a Beauty risk to convince two other Ven of something (his worth, as a Husband). One of the targets was a PC, and one was an NPC. I decided that this would be a contested Beauty risk, and whoever got privilege could decide if he was successful in his attempt, and then convert wagers to style or add embellishments as usual. Pretty straightforward so far. Then, the third PC wanted to improve the first PCs odds of success at convincing the PC target (the female Serpent) by "boxing out" the NPC Ven so he wasn't rolling. He basically wanted to use Prowess (or Strength) to position himself between the NPC and the PC, and keep him from really interacting with either of them - which sounded like a reasonable thing to do... either blocking a doorway or pulling him aside or something.

I wasn't sure how to handle it though. I figured one character shouldn't be able to prevent another character from rolling merely by interrupting with another contest. He could, perhaps, add an aspect to the scene (or to the boxed out character) that his friend could tag for bonus dice, so I suggested that and we went with it. Since the NPC wasn't particularly aware of the social risk about to be attempted on him, I didn't think it made sense for him to try to counter-position himself to participate, so I made it a simple risk for the PC. He won and added an aspect with a tag to the scene. In order to make sure the bonus dice didn't make his friend more successful at convincing the guy he wanted to box out, though, I added that if a PC tags that aspect and gains priviledge, they must agree with what the first player wanted (which was that the NPC was unconvinced because he wasn't close enough to the PC trying to impress people). It felt clunky, and I didn't really like the condition I imposed, but I thought it fit with the "get bonus dice in a specific situation" idea.

Again, would love to hear how else I might have handled that part.

For next game (no idea when that will be, probably when we don't have enough people for our usual game, or when that campaign ends), I intend to finish up the wedding scene and call that one Story of the Season, and then go into the domain action stuff and have them complete Step C to build up their existing domains before having them commit to their Season Actions for this season and returning to finish the Stories of this Season. Domain management seems to be a big part of the system, and is one of the pieces we're most interested in, but my main concern is that it will highlight one of the things that my players seemed least happy with about the game. Cunning is awesome, and when it comes to being a ruler, it doesn't seem to matter at all if you're a Wise ruler, a Charismatic ruler (with high Beauty) nor if you display any other virtue than Cunning. Am I missing something? I intend to go over those rules more carefully before we play again, so hopefully I can answer my own questions, but I'd love to get some feedback!

Re: My first game of HotB (advice welcome)

PostPosted: Sun Jun 24, 2012 4:25 pm
by Tshanja
Just realized there is a better forum for this (Game Experiences). If anyone could move it there for me, I'd appreciate it. :-D

Re: My first game of HotB (advice welcome)

PostPosted: Mon Jun 25, 2012 11:32 am
by wunderworks
During Season actions you can use any Virtue that is need to complete a specific task. If you RP out that task/event then you definitely use the appropriate Virtue. Cunning is only for the number of season actions you get. Prowess is definitely the Virtue you use to direct troops while Strength is definitely the virtue you use to swim/bend bars/grab a falling person, etc.. And remember, Wisdom is knowing something, and while it gets a LOT of play during the first few sessions it becomes less useful as the game plays out as most things become established. Strength and Prowess really shine during physical issues and Courage is a more passive stat (although some have house-ruled it to be the Archery stat) but super useful in situations regarding Orks, social fear, etc.. It is the only Stat that can shut down Beauty when Beauty is going all out. Courage is the ability to say, "No."

Regarding the "Boxing Out" situation, either way works. You could first have had the Strength risk with the two people over the Boxing out then the Beauty risk with wagers from the winner of the Strength risk being applied as Free Wagers to the Beauty risk by which ever side that won (if they were not spent to prevent the other player from interacting). OR do what you did, but here's a more elegant way. Any player can spend Style to create a tag in a scene and the first person to tag it can do so for free (everyone else spends a Style to gain the Tag advantage). So the Strength player could have spent Style to say, "I create the Tag "Private Audience," for X player (the one attempting the Beauty Risk)." Then X player could have used the Tag (for bonus dice) in their Beauty Risk and the NPC couldn't use their wagers to say that the other NPC interferes because the Tag Private Audience is True and you can't contradict things that are already true. :)

Step C (from C&C) is a great idea and I REALLY want to run a HotB campaign using that game set-up. I've only run campaigns since before C&C was published and haven't had the chance to let players do that yet. BUT I WANT TO SO BAD.

One thing you might want to do is identify potential road-blocks during Domain Creation and have extra print outs handy for the players to access and keep things moving. I've found that if I have multiple copies of the Domain Creation Quick Rules PDF (not sure if that's the title, but it's on the Downloads page off of available things go more smoothly and I can answer questions as they come up. And again, Cunning is only for how many actions you get for Season Actions (And Spouses and other helpers can definitely ADD to your Actions). If you've a high Beauty and you use it to make your Peasants love you then you can create Tags/Aspects (with a Beauty Risk and Wagers or just Style) that the Peasants of X Province like Y person. Or even add a CHARACTER aspect that says, "ALL PEASANTS LOVE ME." Which is pretty awesome in its own right.

Finally, if your players are still poo-pooing Strength and Prowess have them run into some orks while on a routine ride through their own lands and perhaps have it over a crumbling bridge over a swift river rapids. Give the orks Fear to through Courage into the mix and they'll be singing a different tune quickly. :) They ARE right about one thing though, the various Virtues do shine brightly in their own domains.

Re: My first game of HotB (advice welcome)

PostPosted: Tue Jun 26, 2012 8:27 am
by Astelle_Mwwr
You can use those Virtues in a few fun ways if you are creative. Say your opponent points to you in order to make someone think you insulted them. Strength is about physical prowess, so you can just deftly spin to the side so that the accusing finger points to someone beside you. I could come up with others, but I think the disconnect is very much that Wisdom seems to be more world affecting and the rest tend to be much more local affecting.

Re: My first game of HotB (advice welcome)

PostPosted: Tue Jun 26, 2012 8:47 am
by Tshanja
Thanks for the replies. Lots of good ideas. I do think as we play more sessions of HotB I'll have some opportunities to make sure those other stats shine. If, for example, the Duel had taken place - or even better, and encounter with Orks like you suggested - I'm confident they'd see the value in not automatically dying any time there is violence, even if it means you don't get to define as much of the universe as you might like on the first session.

When I said I thought Cunning had the most effect in Season actions I was thinking mostly because it defines how much you can do (number of actions) as well as playing directly in espionage (if you act as the Spy Master). Espionage is critical to any sort of action against anyone else in Season actions (you can't even invade and concur them until you've scouted the place out first - which makes sense if you want to keep the whole thing a secret). It also affects your own security, which prevents anyone else from acting against your domain. So, at least to me, it seems important. I suppose Beauty is also rolled if your Season action is to create art, but for the most part, the actions didn't seem to tie to much rolling. If I am not mistaken, unless the Narrator (or the players) insist on RPing out a particular Season action, they are almost all either automatic or involve rolling dice based on someone else's rank. Prowess, for example, plays no part in the Conquer Season action, unless it is RPed out, in which case the Mass Murder rules are used, and probably everyone dies. :-) The rank of your troops matter, but it doesn't really matter whether the baron, himself, can lift a sword or plan his way out of a paper bag. Such a leader would probably want a general leading his armies, but that guys stats also don't seem to matter. As far as I can tell, if you're planning to conquer something, it is far more important to have a Master Spy than a General - but like I said, I haven't examined them too carefully yet, and haven't seen them in action, either.

I'm excited to see how it goes, in any case.

Re: My first game of HotB (advice welcome)

PostPosted: Wed Jun 27, 2012 7:32 pm
by Tshanja
wunderworks wrote:Step C (from C&C) is a great idea and I REALLY want to run a HotB campaign using that game set-up. I've only run campaigns since before C&C was published and haven't had the chance to let players do that yet. BUT I WANT TO SO BAD.

Yeah, this seems like it will be neat. One thing I don't really like about it, though, is that it seems like 20 actions is far too few. Players basically have to spend 5 Actions getting regions (not the castle or village yet) including a source of lumber and stone, 4 actions producing resources to get what is needed for a city and village, 2 actions creating those, another 5 to get their normal allotment of vassals. 5 more for devotions. That's already 21 actions used up just to get the basics, and doesn't include what they might want to use their freebie points for.

I suppose if you picked 2 sources of lumber and stone, you could shave 2 produce actions off of that... but it still seems to come up quite a bit short, and really limits what you can spend your initial regions on.

Re: My first game of HotB (advice welcome)

PostPosted: Thu Jun 28, 2012 10:57 am
by wunderworks
I did a bunch of tests with the 20 Season actions, it's plenty, and your numbers are off. a regular baron begins with a *village* and a Castle, not a city and a village. :) Also, when you spend a season action gaining resources you gain all of your potential resources, not just one. :)

Re: My first game of HotB (advice welcome)

PostPosted: Thu Jun 28, 2012 12:48 pm
by Tshanja
wunderworks wrote:I did a bunch of tests with the 20 Season actions, it's plenty, and your numbers are off. a regular baron begins with a *village* and a Castle, not a city and a village. :) Also, when you spend a season action gaining resources you gain all of your potential resources, not just one. :)

Edit: Oops! The city was a typo. I meant castle all along. castles require so much wood and lumber, it seems like that's where most of the actions go, and you're screwed if you don't build one.

I was counting that it takes 1 stone + 1 lumber to build a rank 1 village, and 3 stone and 3 lumber to build your rank 1 castle. So, before you did those you needed to explore an area that can produce those (or two) and spend a 2-4 actions making them produce. If I am misunderstanding something, I'd liek to know before I put my players through this.

Here is my attempt at an example:

Action 1 - Explore Mountain (for stone)
Action 2 - Explore Forest (for lumber)
Action 3 - 5 Explore Other three domains (lets say another mountain and forest, to make getting the castle quicker, and maybe a farm)
Action 6 - Produce (now I have 2 lumber, 2 stone, and 1 luxuries)
Action 7 - Explore/Build a Village (costs 1 lumber and 1 stone... down to 1 lumber, 1 stone, and 1 food or whatever)
Action 8 - Produce (now I have 3 lumber, 3 stone, and 2 food or whatever)
Action 9 - Explore/Build a Castle (costs 3 lumber and 3 stone)
Action 10 - 14 Pickup the 5 devotions since it doesn't matter when I do those
Action 14-19 Pick up 5 points of vassals, since it doesn't matter when I do those

That's 19 of 20 actions just to get to what a normal character has, without spending any freebie points, and I had to make 4 of my 5 regions something that produce wood and stone.

I am also a little worried that if I start going through the process with new players, who don't know the system well, they'll make some ordering mistakes (such as not exploring all of their domains before producing) which will result in not having enough actions left to even build a castle by the time they decide they need to.

Re: My first game of HotB (advice welcome)

PostPosted: Fri Jun 29, 2012 10:45 am
by wunderworks
You get your Devotions without spending Season actions, that might be where you're having problems. And the idea is that if you want to build exactly like a starting character then you can. 20 Season actions gets you to that point and maybe a little extra (then you do your freebie points).

The idea is if you want to build a character that has a city, but no castle, or a lot of land, or no land, just a castle, etc.. :)

Re: My first game of HotB (advice welcome)

PostPosted: Sun Jul 01, 2012 5:33 pm
by Tshanja
wunderworks wrote:You get your Devotions without spending Season actions, that might be where you're having problems. And the idea is that if you want to build exactly like a starting character then you can. 20 Season actions gets you to that point and maybe a little extra (then you do your freebie points).

Ah, if you don't have to spend 5 actions on devotions that helps even it out.

wunderworks wrote:The idea is if you want to build a character that has a city, but no castle, or a lot of land, or no land, just a castle, etc.. :)

Yeah, I like that the step-C rules allow for that sort of thing, but it seems like if you don't build a castle, you're in big trouble, and it does take planning to build the castle (6 or so actions in a particular order). I'll need to make sure I point that out, I think. Then, if they decide they're rather invest in a city and have it promptly taken from them, that's their business. ;-)