Tags: 2008 delve playtest

delve, glyph

playtest session 46 -- scenario M5m1 kills rats

4/26/11 -- me GMing for John, Dan and Merlin at John's place

John and Merlin both showed up saying, "We wanna kill the fuck out of something." I obliged with a swarm of giant rats, dredged up from the subterranean sludge by the thrashing tentacles of the ziggurat monster. They knew they were getting close to the monster, and this was the final room to overcome.

Hard hint, easy hint

The room included two tablets with Orc runes containing instructions for feeding the monster. "Feed it the dead or the healthy; if it swallows someone while they die, that will put it to sleep." This is the same info I earlier tried to impart in less clear fashion to Merlin through the vial of memories.

This is definitely a pattern for me when I have a solution in mind and the players haven't yet come up with another one to supplant it:

First, give really obscure data that only reveals the solution with some deduction and insight. Never enough to prove the right approach, but enough that, if the players do put it together, it's coherent enough to be remembered and pursued. When the players latch onto these, they feel smart and clever. It's my ideal, but it would cease to be as fun if it happened every time.

Second, back up the first data with something similar but more direct. Remind the players of what they might have deduced earlier. Take a detail that was uncertain and make it definite. If they figure it out at this point, they usually still feel pretty clever, and a little more confident that they're correct. (Although that varies among players! John's more likely to think he's got it right away, for sure; Dan's more likely to say "close enough to pursue"; and Merlin's more likely to remain cautious and demand more certainty.)

Third, hand them the answer, but make their characters earn that discovery with guts, sweat and blood. That's what the rats were for. Interestingly, the guys decided, "Orc writing! Must be bad news!" and smashed the tablets to bits. Fortunately, since their characters couldn't read Orcish anyway, I had another delivery method in mind for the info (shrieking processed by Dan's "protection from sonic attacks" ward), and I just ruled that this would still work with the tablets smashed.

When is it cool to dissolve our fingers with acid?

There was an odd exchange that I managed poorly but it worked out fine because of shared expectations.

Early in the game, Dan was extremely cautious while crawling through a tunnel toward a foul-smelling vent. He pushed a torch along in front of him, always careful not to get too close to the vent. This was fun for me, as I'd created this vent as filled with an acid mist that would dissolve anything. I got to describe a little torch sputtering and hissing, and coming back a little weird-looking.

Later, after killing the rats and approaching a doorway clearly connected to the same smelly vent, Dan just said, "I tie a rope to my torch and lower the torch down the vent." My brain went, "The acid mist melts you! The final door to the great beast is guarded, foolish mortal!" I needed to say something quickly, but I didn't want to do that classic GM obnoxious move of assuming a player character is stupid. SO I imagined him approaching it slowly and being able to react quickly when the acid mist hit the first part of his body. Envision the torch-holding posture, I said, "There's a sizzle and you lose feeling in your thumb and index finger."

He quickly pulled back, and asked me to describe what it looked like. I narrated that his gauntlet had crumpled in a bit, and the rope and torch were fine. It was basically an "oh shit" moment on my part. I'd intended for the mist to disintegrate anything that touched it. But now, having already melted off Dan's fingers, I wasn't sure whether it was plausible to say, "The torch melted too, but you didn't have time to react." I couldn't tell whether the torch would have melted before his fingers, or what kind of warning it might have given him. So I changed the effect to dissolving living tissue; and then I decided that his armor responded to the melting hand by crumpling in, which probably doesn't make sense when you think about it.

Wrangling the fiction to remove a character's digits? Nightmare, right? Nope. Dan's response was, "Fuck! Well, fair enough, I'd stopped being cautious." We both took his change in approach from tunnel to doorway the same way.

I don't really have a conclusion about how to reconcile careful arbitration of actions that might or might not maim characters with the needs of dramatic narration. But I can say that a good understanding about who's responsible for establishing expectations for character behavior gives you a lot more leeway.

What have we been maneuvering around all this time?

We played through the characters descending a staircase into the tablet room, and the room filling with rats, and the characters moving toward the stairway so they could retreat up it. Only at this point did anyone discuss whether the stairs were surrounded by walls or not, which was vital to how defensible they'd be (rats climbing up the sides is bad news!). Dan had assumed the stairs were walled while John had assumed they weren't.

I hadn't thought about it, but the plan to bottleneck the rats on the stairs sounded good to me, so I said they were walled. This is not at all how I'd instruct a new GM to run Delve; winging stuff this way can violate the players' trust in the GM's impartiality. But once everyone in the group does trust each other to value fictional consistency and plausibility over personal agendas, then winging it is much safer.

That said, the ideal solution remains for the players to ask for more info when entering a new space, or for anyone at the table to anticipate a relevant factor and ask about it before the action's fully underway.

Formalize environmental questions?

I've written down, "I survey the area," "I look for _," and, "I try to judge _," as reminders for players to seek info about their characters' surroundings. I've never tried to enforce use of these specific phrases, though, responding equally well (as GM) to questions about "what's there?" or "are there rocks?" etc.

After playing Puppetland and Kagematsu at Camp Nerdly, and getting great atmospheric mileage out of very strict narration constraints, now I'm re-thinking this. Mandatory use of these key phrases could better force players to view the fiction through their characters' eyes. From that perspective, I find that color and details become more interesting, and forgetting to ask what kind of staircase you're on is rare.

Table of fallback options

I wrote up a list of common things the characters do, and jotted down constructive options for each. That way, if the players got stumped on, say, making a plan, they could look at the Making a Plan options and say, "Oh, hey, Pick a Top Priority might be a good call here!"

No one looked at the sheet all session. But this was a high-action session. A session with some non-urgent moments and decisions to be made might be a better test.
delve, glyph

playtest session 45 -- scenario M5m1 dissects monsters

1/19/11 -- me GMing for John, Dan and Merlin at John's place

Dan had to leave after an hour to deal with wife/baby stuff. The session began with two large tentacles impaled on swords from the previous session. Before proceeding down the magically opened stairway to investigate new parts of the ziggurat, the guys decided to experiment on the tentacles.

They chopped through them, analyzed the layers of the cross-section, and started pouring various liquids on various layers. This was a cool opportunity for me to think about how the monster worked, and to give them some hints about their potential plan to poison it. As usual, there was a little awkwardness as I struggled to make sense on the spot, narrating in separating layers so the various fluids wouldn't be mixing inside the monster.

I should probably think about fun ways to interact with the monster and then define its anatomy more throughly (perhaps to signal those?) before next session.
delve, glyph

playtest session 44 -- scenario M5m1 keeps up the action

1/4/11 -- me GMing for John, Dan and Merlin at John's place

They used every last chunk of alodite to divide the bodiless demon into bits and stash the bits int eh magic safe. Then they let John get hypnotized and called into the tentacle room, opening a new path and setting off a fun fight.

More magic

They tried to activate their rune using alodite charged by the bodiless demon, or by the wardrobe itself. This didn't work. To explain why, I described how this alodite, with a small bit of a demon passing briefly through it, didn't look like the properly-charged alodite of previous uses. I need to pick a visual for "charged alodite" and remember it. I think "faintly glowing" works.

The guys also engineered a brilliant way to "bleed" a demon. By letting tiny fragments of it escape from its container, one tiny bit at a time, with each bit too weak to survive.

Fun and unique combat

Late in this session there was a fight that required some impromptu arbitration. The guys were all fighting a tentacle monster. The most important things they tried to do were to:
(a) get within range of the tentacle's base, the better to sever it,
(b) avoid being grabbed,
(c) upon landing a hit, to slice all the way through the tentacle, and
(d) when grabbed, to escape.

I hadn't made rules for any of these things beforehand. Generally, in combat, we use Maneuver checks to resolve attempts at positioning. So, we did a bunch of those. I allowed the players to use relevant bonuses from Circling and Pressing. It seemed like a fun reward for having bought those skills and it was plausible enough.

As for the severing of tentacles, damage dealt played a role, but I also made them make Strength checks for complete severing. It seemed a good way to work in a stat that is generally short-changed. The big NPC tank was finally good for something.

As for when Merlin got grabbed by a tentacle, there was a whole lot of wingin' it. I basically described how it was difficult. He described what he was trying to do. And Dan described how he was trying to help. The sum of all that was interpreted as some combo of Agility, Maneuver, and Wrestling checks.

I've been thinking about how to make combats interesting. This one definitely was. Perhaps in the future, when creating monsters, I should predetermine which mechanics apply when battling them. For my home group, though, we are able enough to agree on the fiction and sufficient ways to arbitrate it. No one's too picky, as long as it makes sense.

Unfortunately, at conventions, without prior play to establish that this process is indeed fair, I run the risk of that reaction where players go, "Fuck. The GM's just winging it. He's going to produce the outcome he wants. I am disempowered." I wonder if intro rules chat can cover this. At the very least, if some player is vehemently opposed to ad libbed resolution particulars, perhaps I can take some pauses in play to script things so I don't get spotted winging it.

Or perhaps I should do what Matt said, and hide all the die rolls so the issue never comes up. The downside of that is that the players may constantly feel disempowered.

New idea: remember to elicit intents; state (and discuss if necessary) relevant factors, and then map said factors to stat- or luck-based rolls. That might work as an explicit, standardized version of what I already kinda mostly do.
delve, glyph

playtest session 43 -- scenario M5m1 eats brains & delivers dungeonry

12/1/10 -- me GMing for John, Dan and Merlin at John's place

I am proud of myself.  I actually kept notes on the magical metaphysics introduced this session!  I used to just assume I'd remember until the write-up, but that's not foolproof, and I'm not always thorough in these write-ups.  Plus, this session's muckings included 4 different liquids to produce similar but distinct effects.  Oh, and my lack of documentation came back to cause some confusion.  So, plenty of incentives to begin jotting.

Game Supplements

When we met up at John's apartment, we had a chat about D&D character building.  I was lamenting about how there's no possible Delve equivalent of D&D3's books and books of customizing options.  Merlin said, "Sure there is.  Different backgrounds and sets of skills, from different places in the world."  It's true.  There are a lot of different color options.  The effectiveness options would be pretty low-consequence -- we don't roll skill checks all that often -- but that wound up being true in D&D3 too.  How often did that really cool feat combo ever actually come up?  Merlin said that the feat combos weren't just about being the best, they were also about the flavor.  So, different-flavored versions of "I'm good at Switching into a fight, Pressing in, and Wrestling an opponent" might still grab players.


Speaking of Wrestling, I mentioned some fears about fairness.  If it's a rare, cheap skill, it's easy to outclass someone in it.  So, just as Merlin's character can dominate some opponents that way, some opponents would logically be able to dominate John and Dan's guys.  Dan said he was cool with that, as long as the end result was just a hold.  Thus, they'd need to be out-wrestled AND out-numbered to be victims of uncontested throat-slitting.  And they really haven't been out numbered in any fights thus far.  Dan also mentioned that being out-wrestled is far from automatic, as you get a strength check every round to escape.  This made me wonder: is that true?  True until you get pinned?  I really need to finalize the wrestling rules.

Advancement: First Aid & Herbalism

Before jumping back into play, Merlin noted that it'd been a long time since we'd done advancement.  We tried to remember the last time; we agreed on Hesengard.  I counted up the sessions since.  Eight.  So, 24 more points each.  Dan and Merlin had saved their previous 25, so they now had enough to buy Mastery in their weapons.

John had saved fewer points, and could only afford Mastery in a cheaper skill: Herbalism or First Aid.  I didn't want him to pay for no reward, so we talked about what new cool stuff he might do as a Master medic or herbalist.  I also didn't want something declared out of the blue without corresponding training or practice.

For First Aid, we agreed that he'd need some cadavers to cut up, to learn more about anatomy, the better to treat severe lacerations.  We discussed how only Minecoil goop had saved them from some crippled (5-pt wound) limbs in the past, and they were running out of goop.  So John's surgery skills would allow him to treat these injuries.  I mentioned how the results might still be unsatisfactory without magical assistance, so we decided that part of First Aid Mastery meant knowing how to use his magical tools etc. to help surgery.  Which, now that I think about it, probably means speeding recovery time.  I'll have to think more about what resources he has that could achieve that.

For Herbalism, most of the new effects John wanted were just stronger versions of the stuff he could already do -- numb pain, boost energy, induce drowsiness, poison.  We decided that it'd be cool to invent a distillation process to create potent elixirs.  He also was excited about making herb-combo potions (multi-purpose? or sum greater than parts?), and isolating properties of multi-faceted herbs.  We started pondering where he might get pipes for distilling, but then he decided to hold off on taking the skill.

Fun tarot spread

What with the players going after non-supernatural problems of late, we hadn't done one of these in a while.  Dan seemed eager to get to some action, but John and Merlin both came up with some really cool ideas while studying it.  They were completely off base, but still, fun.

Leaving the spread out on the table was key.  As the adventure unfolded, Merlin connected his interpretation of a figure in the spread (Elericus) with the current tentacled brain-sucking action, with brilliant results!  He thought up the idea of feeding Elericus to the Grell to get the memories he stole from Rodokandris, then feeding the memories to Rodokandris -- or one of the PCs!  I kinda hope they try this.

The big tarot breakthrough, though, was when John saw that washing Grell goo off Einarr with holy water produced an alcohol-scented yellow liquid.  He instantly looked at the cards, saw the nourishing river card crossing the yellow drunkard card, and realized that they had to drink this stuff.

Demon powers used on lackeys

Nasty demon + magically protected PCs + defenseless NPCs (who the PCs like) = win/win.  Grotesque color, pride in goodies, anger at evil, desire to protect useful assets (lackeys) and guilt over their loss.  Not even necessary to threaten the PCs with injury!

Plus they had an ingenious solution for sucking the demon out of the Brotherhood guy it possessed -- stab it with alodite!  I couldn't allow a mere stab to accomplish a proper binding of the type that usually needs rituals and starlight, but it worked* for just long enough until their next cool idea.  Throw the alodite into the safe from whence the demon had come!

*Hey, it's a demon looking for physical bodies!  Nothing says the next demon should be likewise affected.


As a GM, I'm not a big fan.  Tracking all the physical spacing hurts my head.  Thorough mapping of everything takes time.  Limited mapping of what the characters know is awkward.  Gehn.  All that said, when fast-forwarding is an option, and getting lost isn't, it's easier to focus on the fun parts.  I'm not sure why "this is in your way; to proceed, you must deal with it" is so alluring even when there's no obvious reason to get to the other side.  But it seems to get everyone stoked.

The exploration yielded a slowly unfolding reveal of the fact that the building is an Orc ziggurat, where human sacrifice rituals were once performed.  I paced this largely with menial labor, where the most revealing rooms had to be excavated.  I also threw in a few "don't go here!" signs, and obliged with fights when they did.  We ended the session with them trying to carve runes into a wardrobe which is actually a monster that eats people who enter it.  I've got a whole week now to figure out what the fuck that'll do...

Some metaphysics

It takes two alodite daggers to fully suck a bodiless possessor demon out of its host.  These will leak almost instantly, but contain the demon for at least a few seconds thereafter.  Part of my concept is that the demon is disoriented by being split into bits.  Perhaps two weaker demons will emerge...

Alodite fragments inserted into a physical monster will temporarily sap small amounts of that monster's power.  Not sure if I like this.  Will have to revisit what happened when the guys stuck arrowheads into the wardrobe.

Touching charged alodite to a rune-spell can activate the spell, depending.  Depending on what?  "Automatic" seemed wrong, so I tried to remember what else might have been required during the long-ago experiment with the Firewalkers.  Dust?  That seemed logical, so we went with that.  But now I think that perhaps the issue is "charged".  If you actually have a serious demon stuck in your alodite, and it was dangerous and difficult to put it there, then sure, you can do a spell with that, no other resources required.  I'll just have to clarify the difference between truly charged alodite and alodite that a demon may be just sorta partially passing through.  (Hopefully I can find a way to clarify it after they stab one demon with another, rather than before...)

White goo - contains memories of Grell and most recent victim, but will cause madness if ingested.
Clear slime - sufficient amount reflects last memory eaten.
White goo + clear slime = display memories (slime acts as lens into goo).
Baby's breath + water = holy water.
Holy water + slime = no effect.
Holy water + goo = Grell wine.
Grell wine - shows last memory on surface.  When drunk, gives visions of Grell memories.  When completely drunk, shows how to put Grell to sleep: feed it someone as that person dies.  If drinking from goo of own stolen memories, these memories are restored (though not experienced during drinking -- Grell memories experienced?).
delve, glyph

playtest session 42 -- scenario M5m1 seduces

11/17/10 -- me GMing for John, Dan and Merlin at John's place

After saving the latest victim of the Impostor demon (my major antagonist), they went back to the Brotherhood (one of their pet projects).  They then decided to delay their various plans relating to these two scenarios, and explore the ziggurat whose top floors the Brotherhood occupied.  I was caught a little off guard.  I'd mentioned the place's mysteries several sessions before, but hadn't bothered to prep anything, because, well, it was just sitting there.  But I guess no players who are veterans of the dungeon crawl can resist one for long!

What followed was some tentative improv on my part, adding come color to the place at first, and then showing glimpses of the main monster's power when further stalling would have gotten boring.

My schema of "finish one mission, pick another, end session, GM prep" was designed to avoid exactly this.  But any GM who does what I did, and gives the PCs some business in a dungeon without bothering to define that dungeon, deserves what he gets.

I'm not using pyramids of secrets

I labeled this as relating to "M5" (Major Secret #5) just for the hell of it.  I have no plan for how the stuff the PCs will learn in the ziggurat relates to other scenarios' nuggets of truth.  For a long time, I've been working largely off stuff they already know and items they already have, giving them the next piece in a nice synergy.  Though even that has been largely ad-libbed.  I think the framework of how demons work, and how a few key materials (e.g. alodite) and processes (e.g. rune spells) interact with that, has really been all that I personally need. 

I really wish I'd tried the pre-planned "A + B + C = awesome" approach to secrets, though.  Maybe I still will.

More fun with soft spots

Doing a cleansing ritual and going naked into a surreal place to draw healing runes on people to remove the ethereal black fingers signifying their curse does not, in fact, get old quickly.

Still threatening

I had a cool idea for an in-soft spot manifestation of the demon door conceived for the crew's next un-cursing.  However, the crew decided to hurry back into reality at the first sign of anything strange.  I was only a little disappointed; I was actually more excited by the fact that, 42 sessions in with no fatalities, they're still taking threats seriously.

Having proven that demons can do nasty things to them (specifically stealing the world's memory of them, while in a soft spot) helps, as does the fact that they're slowly using up their power source for healings (some of which have saved lives in the past).
delve, glyph

playtest session 41 -- player scenario 2 reaches out

10/27/10 -- me GMing for John, Dan and Merlin at John's place

We all had fun talking about where the characters were and all the leads they had to work with. It was particularly fun to remember some cool plans the guys had. After boiling it down to a few options, Dan suggested they just pick something, and the group agreed on the most time-sensitive option (tracking down an infectious guy before he could poison anyone else).

Keeping things moving

Before departing the Brotherhood lair to hunt the plague-bearer, the guys decided to put out a few more feelers for cultists who might prefer the Shadowhunters to their current leader, Elericus.  I reminded them that they'd decided time was of the essence, so how long did they really want to spend on this?  They decided the best thing to do was just talk to the one guy who already liked them, and ask him to work the crowd for them while they were away.

As their tales and discoveries found a warm audience in Brother Marcus, John got into one of his over-thorough modes, sharing more and more as Dan and Merlin got eager to depart.  Finally Dan said, "Time to go!"  John said, "Okay.  Oh wait, one more thing!"  After a little eye-rolling, he got through teh final item, and restrained himself from starting another topic.

I guess after 41 sessions we've finally gotten the hang of how to pace group choices.  The GM provides at least some semblance of time pressure, Dan calls an end to the musing and a time for decision, and John takes the hint when everyone's ready to move on.

"GM provides time pressure" is in the game, but only formally during missions; beyond that, it's just advice.  At the larger scale, it's hard to reconcile "time pressure" with "no coercion", but I think this session was a good example.  The pressuring situation was not so urgent that they obviously had to deal with it.

Success without feedback

Friendly Brother Marcus, unbeknownst to the players, was actually the spy of their adversary Elericus.  He'd been assigned to feign loyatly to them, the better to discover any plans they might hatch against Elericus.  However, Brother Marcus is, first and foremost, a supernatural power hunter.  So when the guys were so forthcoming with him, as I roleplayed his responses, I realized that they were winning him over, and by the end of the conversation, Marcus was more excited to team up with them than to stick with his pact with Elericus!

It didn't feel right to have this cautious, secretive guy make a snap decision and announcement, though.  I wanted to yell, "I've been a spy, but no more!  Y'all are way cooler than my old boss!" but it didn't seem authentic.  So, Marcus is pondering, figuring out how to get the most out of this situation, and when the Shadowhunters return, he'll have some sort of useful allegiance to offer them.

This is something they earned!  It belongs to that class of most gratifying moments, where your strategic choice, character vision, and portrayal skills all come together to get you all that you wanted and more!  "We decided it was worth the risk to trust this guy, we decided to get in good with him by sharing magic, we came off as authorities without making any claims that we can't back up, and we delivered some convincing lines -- and now we have our rival's most trusted lieutenant in our pocket!"  But I couldn't give them that moment just yet.

This is why I fear that, as a formal game, Delve sucks.  There's no promise of which decisions will turn out to be the most consequential, and no promise that you'll know the consequences immediately. 

Game-style feedback is incompatible with a "thinking only in character" simulation.  This incompatibility can only be resolved to the extent to which the simulated reality itself resembles a game.

You can get partway there by mystical scrying, and other special ways for the characters to seek feedback that would otherwise be hidden.  Delve has some of this -- talk to someone, read their aura, and get a sense (though vague) of how you've affected their disposition. 

You can also get partway there by augury and other special ways to ask/observe "what's important?"  The card spreads do a vague version of this, implying that if you can map a card to a situation, then dealing with that situation won't be a waste of your time.

NPC talky scenes as character expression and player interaction

When you're just solving problems, your character's personality is just dressing, and can be hard to work in unless they have a distinctive voice.  (Hmm, I could try mandating one speech particularity per character?)

Among the typical problem-solving options, most of them don't have much room for expression of personality -- climbing, tracking, fighting, riddling, etc.

Dealing with people, on the other hand, more often begs the question of how you go about it, morally and stylistically.  Do you comfort people, scare them, be honest, or misrepresent yourself?  Do you use your position of (usually temporary) importance to push your own agenda or dogma?

Character disagreements are a great way for players to interact, especially when the disagreement doesn't need consensus for play to proceed.  The more the players step on each other's toes regarding how (stylistically, not practically) to solve the mission, the more fun the mission is to solve.

The key ingredients for this are that the characters have reasons to care, and have differing perspectives.  (I guess that's X-Men, huh?)  Given established characters, this is yet another thing to try to work into scenario design... or perhaps NPC design?  With new characters, perhaps char-gen ought to mandate that each one has some sort of pertinent ideology.  "Pertinent" seems to always relate to personal goals, and usually to the supernatural.

Char-gen that establishes your take on the supernatural, what you want it for, and your general outlook on people, might be good.  Examples: Neat/Exciting/Threatening/Profane, Power/Humanity, superiority/inferiority/brotherhood.

For one-shots, I wonder if explicit inter-character tensions are wise.  Goals relating to each other (convince party member B of X), or mutually exclusive goals (A: convince villagers they need our expertise, B: give villagers confidence to deal w/ supernatural themselves), perhaps.
delve, glyph

playtest session 40 -- player scenario 2 tantalizes

7/28/10 -- me GMing for John, Dan and Merlin at my place

Frustrating evening. Everyone arrived way late, and Merlin was comatose from heatstroke. Just as we moved from the new info and revelations (the Brotherhood have a grand history and useful connections, live in a partly-walled-off dungeon, and know of another group hoarding magic secrets!) into time for action, people had to go home.

The guys' indecision on what to pursue has me wondering about the idea of hooking them up with a consultant, who they can go to with their goals, and will tell them where to get started. Of course, on those occasions where they invent a plan of action, that can be a major fun part...
delve, glyph

playtest session 39 -- player scenario 2 complexifies

7/14/10 -- me GMing for Dan, John and Merlin at John's place

Uses and threats of soft spots

Having found their friendly priest possessed by the Impostor, the guys decided he needed a healing. Which meant either a healing rune with Minecoil goop, or a healing rune inside the soft spot, where runes are automatically "on". Naturally, they went for the soft spot. Once they entered, I decided that the possession would manifest as shadowy "fingers" reaching out from some great distance to touch the priest. I also threw in other fingers in the distance, with their targets obscured by the forest. I saw a good opportunity to hint at the Impostor's plans for Duyker, and described the one visible target: Duyker's statue.

The PCs were tempted to follow some shadow-fingers and find other targets, but they cautiously reasoned that soft spot times and distances might be illusory, so they left as soon as they healed the priest.

The priest had told them "bring nothing with you", and the few things they did bring became threatening -- ropes and a gag became a python and a bear trap. The ground was also soaked in blood, my vague reference to their bringing a certain level of hostility & violence in.

The second time they entered the soft spot, intending to see if they could carve a rune-spell into the ground to "cure" the area, I hit them with more antagonism, reasoning that they'd gotten something or other's attention. I wanted to kill any sense of "explore at leisure", so I had "Elericus" appear, say something ominous, and then create and turn a clock hand, saying "it is too late for you; your time has run out!" Dan and John got the hint and dashed out of the soft spot. Back in the real world, one whole day had passed.

GM gets info from "cleansing ritual"

As part of the "leave nothing" practiced by the priest, he asked the PCs to take leave of their desires. He led them through a visualization exercise, like so: "What thing or person do you yearn to control? Answer aloud; or, if it is too private, answer inside your head. Picture this thing in your mind. Now, let it go; release your attachment to it."

I went down my list of the 12 stimuli and results from the "aura - desire" Perception Power for the 12 questions the priest would ask. Once it occurred to Merlin to watch their auras and take notes, I helped him, making sure he was clear on each desire. I had to describe a few aura shifts, as Dan and John ran with some questions: "What do I look to for peace?" (Green aura...) "Violence!" (...shifts to Blue aura.)

I wrote down Dan and John's answers, which gave me some great material to inspire future situations. I know I'll find some dramatic presentations in future soft spot forays.

It also was a lot of fun for them to really dig into the characters from multiple angles and update their concepts.

After the cleansing, Merlin checked their auras to see if any of the black tendrils (supernatural corruption) had lessened. I said, "Hard to tell; probably not; but their auras are a little bit brighter."

Both sides of a time distortion

There was some weirdness as everyone tried to guess how long in the regular gameworld Dan and John might be in the soft spot. Merlin decided to leave them some clothes and go off to do other chores nearby before checking back. When he was pondering leaving the area, things got a little awkward. "Dude, don't ditch us!" "Well, you guys might be gone for a week! Or more!" I wanted to be able to help, but I figured a few more moments of doubt was worth it for the ultimate reveal I'd already decided (one day).

After their return, Dan and Merlin had an excellent in-character yelling match about Merlin ditching them, which ended with, "At least you could have left us a cheap weapon!"
delve, glyph

playtest session 38 -- player scenario 2 bites back

7/7/10 -- me GMing for Dan, John and Merlin at John's place

After a 5-month hiatus, we spent a lot of time discussing what the PCs had done most recently, and remembering their various objectives. I went back over everyone's Life Goals and Next Destinations, hoping to find out what the guys were most ready to invest in.

Different procedures for different GMs?

The consensus was that they were all curious about the Brotherhood, and wanted to milk their new connection with the sect to learn all they could from it. I had kind of been hoping for a specific objective and concrete steps to get there -- that would have let me know exactly what to offer and where to throw obstacles. The vaguer "milk the Brotherhood for what it's worth" got me nervous, as I hadn't loaded the Brotherhood with cool situations. This is the sort of thing I used to love prepping back when I ran "follow the GM's plot" games. Making up the details of ancient cults is particularly fun when you can make everyone interact with it all. Faced with having to ad-lib all the important details of the cult, I had a weird moment of crisis. It went like this:

"Oh no! Can't just make up stuff on the spot! This is important! It not only needs to be a rich trove of adventure situations, it also needs to have just the right amount of magic, and it also needs to make sense!"

"Wait a minute. This is an opportunity to be spontaneous and run with the energy in the room right now to make up whatever seems coolest. I love doing that!"

In many ways, Delve gets me away from my strengths as a GM. I've been toning down my "wing it" urges for the sake of both testing the game and playing it as intended, but maybe that latter is pointless. I may be designing for a GM who doesn't improvise well and doesn't love a ton of prep... but that doesn't mean I want to force all GMs into that mode. GMs who love prep should do it, and GMs who love winging it should do that too.

I think perhaps Delve's GM tools need to come in several optional flavors. Widgets for different purposes. "Want more cool fights? Use these procedures. Want more thematic resonance? Use these other procedures. Want both? Use both!"

In the end, I was able to delay their meeting with the Brotherhood until next session, giving me time to think and prep before then. Which is exactly how the game is supposed to work. Hmm. Maybe "when unprepared, hit 'em with an ambush!" is valuable GM advice?

Game theme as situation inspiration

Thinking about "what will you do for supernatural power?" led me very quickly to an idea for a new source of conflict. John and Dan and Merlin have rarely been afraid to get their hands dirty, but not all fighters of evil would feel the same way. Some would surely be fanatical purists -- and, in fact, I long ago came up with some, in the Witch-hunters of Palatine. So, that was the ambush I hit 'em with.

Having Barrier Rot vs being a demon

To drive home how the supernatural corruption had affected them, I made two of the three characters unable to cross a circle of salt drawn around them. This rocked, but I need to figure out the logic behind it. After all, I don't want every peasant with some salt to be able to imprison demons. So either tainted humans are of a different class than demonic creatures (plausible, but weak), or the Witch-hunter had some salt with special properties, which might work on some demonic creatures -- maybe physical ones, like Orcs rather than the Failure Demon.
delve, glyph

playtest session 37 -- player scenario 2

2/17/10 -- me GMing for John, Dan and Merlin at John's place

Really awesome session, and rather unique. After stopping the previous session with "You hear something crashing toward you!" I had plenty of time to prep the monster. It was a goo-spraying thing that destroyed communication and symbols, turning everything to gibberish. The monster was part of a revenge plan hatched by the Failure Demon that the guys exorcised from Hesengard Keep. Their demon-fighting was coming back to bite them. They fell for the demon's plan, taking off their armor to wash goo off it after they killed the monster. As soon as they were undressed, hidden Orcs ordered them to surrender.

They got badly shot up while diving for their weapons, but after that they slightly outclassed the orcs, and kicked their asses. Merlin then goaded the demon to come get them, and it tried, but their anti-curse amulets protected them, so all that happened was the demon made it cold and rotted some foliage before retreating.

Then it was time to meet the Brotherhood. They did a lot of feeling things out, then gathered some drunks to participate in the ritual, then offered Jan's alodite mace as a power source. They wrote a cool chant, and the ritual to transfer Rodokandris's mind from book to body was in full swing, when Elericus jumped in and inserted himself, hoping to steal Rodokandris's knowledge and power. This was (a) me playing Elericus true to concept, and (b) me dodging the bullet of having a Rodokandris on hand who had previously summoned demons, when I'm not ready to give the PCs knowledge of that.

The players were torn on whether to stop Elericus, kill him, or trust his magical expertise. Dan pushed for the latter, and John and Merlin were too undecided to shout him down. Afterwards, when Elericus looked all happy and confident while Rodokandris was weak and disoriented, they regretted not killing him. Nice moment there. :)

This exciting session got me fired up to run the game at Dreamation.

Ritual magic:

I had my list of "relevant concerns in a ritual" and had one cultist give the PCs his best guesses and interpretations of how to apply those principles to this ritual. Energy from starlight-charged alodite, boosting from rhythmic chanting/stomping/strumming, connection from Rodokandris's blood on the book and the book's smoke in his nostrils, harmony from 22 participants (the number of the Wizard tarot card). It worked out pretty well! Good color, some cleverness (arranging the participants in the shape of a "healing" rune) too.

I also managed to slip in that previous reitual attempts had gone terribly awry. I'm pretty sure this got the point across: don't go randomly trying rituals just to see what you can pull off. Using up valuable alodite probably covered that too.


I still need to figure out how their map of alodite spots can be used. It's number pairs, but there's no standardized latitude/longitude system in Lendrhald. I think. Hmm. Maybe that could be included in a map by the Ancients...