The Glittering Trumpet of Kutaraja session 1

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We spent a lot of time on character generation, so didn't get that much play done during the session.

Love letter questions

  • Mohit (Revolutinary): Mambo was my mother. The assassin was in my custody when she was killed by someone else.
  • Lady T (Mondaine): Mambo was my confidant. I chatted to the assassing in the library.
  • Lokinelle (Theurgist): I had profound differences with Mambo. I knew the assassin from way back and convinced her to talk.
  • Charlie (Midnighter): I got together with Mambo for sex. I seduced the assassin and captured her.

Session events

So there we were, running the Dutch blockade of Kutaraja, when we ran out of cloud just short of Acehnese airspace, and smack in the way of a patrolling Dutch airship...

The Dutch airship flashed a heliograph message to the PCs, demanding they stop and be boarded. Mohit responded by sending Bandamasa, his snake spirit totem, to the Dutch airship to rot their steam engines; this partially succeeded, slowing the Dutch airship but not stopping it. He then flashed back a message saying that he would never submit to the hated Dutch slavers. At this point, the other PCs dragged him away from the heliograph and flashed back a message that they would comply with the Dutch demand. (This surprised me as a GM; I was expecting a chase and running battle as the PCs sought the safety of Kutaraja.)

The PCs hove to, the Dutch airship grappled on to it and threw a rickety gangplank between the two airships' gondolas. As the Dutch boarding party came aboard, Mohit declared that he knew the captain, Jacob de Zoet, as an old enemy. It also transpired that he recognised Lady T, as she had killed one of his relatives in the duel where she won her white katana (though de Zoet was impressed by Lady T's military rank).

Mohit continued to denounce de Zoet and all he stood for. Lady T just about talked him out of immediately arresting all the PCs with the help of Lokinelle's magic, though the strain of the spell caused Lokinelle to slump unconscious, still hidden in the shadows.

In an attempt to save face, de Zoet challenged Lady T to a duel to recover the heirloom katana. The duel was fought on the gangway between the ships. Lady T narrowly won, with the assistance of Mohit's spirits rotting the bindings on de Zoet's sword hilt.

Threads

De Zoet will now seek out Lady T for a rematch, or even just to kill her during any invasion of Kutaraja, to recover the sword and his honour.

Playtest comments and questions

  • With answers from Josh, the game's designer!

People were really disappointed that the Glittering Trumpet is described as a gunsword. Based on that, I've now decided that it's a dung chen (a Tibetan long horn.)

Character generation

Character generation was fun! People really liked starting with shopping and the visual way of creating characters. It was different from most RPGs and reinforced the steampunk feel.

The exemplar description step really favours players with a strong vocabulary. A couple of players commented that the "adjective packing" required was difficult, especially the one for whom English is a second language.

People liked mixing and matching two classes, to give a unique spin on the characters.

Suggestion: Character generation probably needs an explicit step of stating how the characters know each other, something about the airship they're aboard, and similar.

Suggestion: When using a cold start, I think the love letters should be read out and chosen near the start of character generation, as it will influence decisions people make later in the process.

In play

I completely missed the opportunity to convert Jacob de Zoet to a named GMC, with his own ratings of things. Instead, I kept him rolling the 7d10 Dutch Blockade Threat Pool, which made him rather tougher than he should have been.

Suggestion: The GM sheet needs space for the NPC Examplar and Class pools.

People were having to spend a bit of time building their dice pools. Some of this is unfamiliarity, and we all expect it to get quicker as we play.

Question: Does every dice roll require the use of an Exemplar?

  • No.

Question: If an Exemplar is not part of a dice pool, can it be targeted by a replying Exploit or Deprive?

  • Generally not, but you can if it makes sense in the fiction.

The timing of Attempts, Denies, and Assists wasn't clear, caused some confusion, and made some of the narration messy.

Question: Can excess successes in a dice roll be used for something, such as creating an Advantage for subsequent use? For instance, Lady T tried to prevent de Zoet from boarding the PCs' airship. Her two Attempts were beaten by de Zoet's four successes. I narrated this as de Zoet boarding the airship and his men fanning out across the gondola. de Zoet could spend two successes to Deny, but could the other two successes be used for something? For instance, held back for a future roll, or used as a two-dice "Men in position" Advantage?

  • In this specific situation, I would have had de Zoet Deny with two successes and then make a new Attempt with the latter two successes, something like "surround them!" That gives the rest of the characters something to respond to in their rolls just coming up. This quickly leads to "messy" action sequences with a lot of things happening, and that's totally the intention.

If that "surround them!" Attempt was not addressed, de Zoet could spend a badassium to turn it into a two-die Advantage for later rolls.

The sequence of PC roll, GM roll, PC roll, felt awkward when Assists came into play. One sequence went like this:

  1. Lady T's player rolled to stop de Zoet arresting all the PCs. She scored two Attempts. She narrated this as a persuasive command.
  2. I rolled for de Zoet, scoring four Denies. I narrated this as de Zoet getting enraged and grabbing Lady T.
  3. Lokinelle's player rolled to Assist Lady T (using sorcery to make Lady T's words more peruasive) and scored four successes. This gave Lady T the extra successes she needed to eliminate de Zoet's Denies.

This meant that de Zoet's action of grabbing Lady T had to be retconned as having not happened.

Question: Do rolls intended to Assist another PC always come after the GM has rolled in between? If so, how should they be narrated?

  • Okay, so this is probably the Big Thing from this playtest feedback. The clock doesn't stop running when the dice come out. The GMC does a thing, the PC tries to stop it but comes up short, and yes, the GMC then does another thing before another PC can jump in on the Assist.
  • Again, this leads to messy action scenes with lots of stuff happening. When you describe what's happening, drop in some intention ("He's going to run you through!") but focus on what's happening at the moment of initiation ("He sidesteps your first thrust and his own blade comes up towards your heart.").
  • Remember that the GM's role during an Action Sequence is like a movie director, leavening everything to make the most exciting and interesting action sequence. If the GMC starts to overpower the scene because they've got every other go, try throwing in a Threat Pool or something to mix things up. I try to always have a Threat Pool involved from the start or waiting in the wings for exactly this reason.

I was also unsure of how to narrate Standing Attempts when there was more than one PC engaged with it. It really wasn't clear when various actions have completed (successfully or not) and when characters still have a chance to influence what happens in the fiction.

Question: If a GMC (or a group, represented as a Threat Pool) has a Standing Attempt that targets more than one PC, when does that Attempt come to pass? Is it when all there have been three PC rolls to Deny it and failing, or if any one PC doesn't roll to Deny it, or something else?

Question: do you have to state the intent of an action (i.e. what you're trying to Attempt, or what you're trying to Deny) before rolling?

  • No. If you're going for a Deny and you come up short and you want to instead put those successes to something else, that's totally kosher.
  • In my experience, intentions are usually pretty plain anyway, and the occasional surprise success spends are a fun wrinkle.
Note added for clarity after further discussion: beats in RJBJ should be small things, actions done in the here-and-now. This isn't a game where resolution is scene-scale.

I think some of these narration and roll sequencing questions will become clearer with a bit of experience, and spending some time clearly stepping through the process of rolling action sequences.

Question: Can you create an Advantage with a roll, apart from spending Bx to buy the result or using a particular Trick?

  • No. The basic route is Buying the Result; various Tricks make it easier. You can, though, roll and spend on an Attempt and a Flourish, then use the Bx from the Flourish to Buy the Result of the Attempt, thus getting yourself an advantage.

Question: How powerful and obvious are you envisaging magic? I'm assuming it's not too far off the human scale of effectiveness, and about as obvious as other actions. You'd need to take steps if you don't want magic noticed.

  • This is a dial that I'm very intentionally leaving to individual tables. I've seen super-subtle might-as-well-be-Mage magic, and I've seen a voudoun PC who would regularly fly through the air. Both takes worked just fine for their individual games, and I don't see a strong reason to tell people one or the other is the right way.

Question: If you want to take an action stealthily, I presume the mechanics behind is to allocate dice to two Attempts: one to perform the action, the other acting as "pre-emptive Denies" for someone noticing the action taking place.

  • Exactly right. "Three dice says I get the locket, two dice says you don't see me." This also allows players to ratchet how much they really want that locket and how much they don't want to be seen.