Session 2 of FotF last night. Continues to be great.
Originally shared by J. Walton
Session 2 of Jason Lutes Freebooters on the Frontier last night, with Johnstone Metzger and Ariel Cayce. This game continues to be super fun to run, and hopefully it’s fun to play too.
One thing I definitely noticed: We decided to start over with new characters, since Johnstone thought his last character was kind of a dick. And there’s this thing where you roll up these random people and their random setting and the random inhabitants of that setting (and in this case: random flotsom and jetsom you washed up with in a random location on the coast), but if you forget to actually spend some time giving them real emotions and real goals and real interactions with each other, you don’t end up really caring about any of it and it becomes hard to roleplay or make choices because you don’t have enough context to do that.
So there were these few awkward moments in the beginning when I turned to Ariel and was like: “So what do you do?” way before we’d set up enough context for him to really know how to make that decision. So then we back-peddled a little bit and I spent more time actually describing the setting and the context and what the other characters were doing and how his character’s leather armor had been stiffened into a board by the saltwater. And after all that we finally had enough context to start making decisions that felt meaningful and made sense. And that was true for me-as-GM in addition to the players. There’s a certain degree of detail and context that you have to establish, even in the richness of things that come out of Jason’s excellent tables, before you can really play effectively, particularly in a game where the fiction provides the foundation for everything else (such as making moves). And I found myself, once my attention was drawn to this, having to do it over and over in this game in each new location or situation that we encountered. So that got me thinking about the role of description and detail (“i.e. make the world seem real”) even in old-school-inspired play. No huge revelations yet, though.
With that out of the way: Johnstone played an evil dark elf priest of darkness named Garsian (and he was worried his previous character was a dick?) and Ariel played a chaotic human thief named Holt Caden. Their starting followers were the human Ardith, a war-profiteer who sold overpriced goods to armies, and Devan, a semi-retired human scoundrel who had some past beef with Holt. They had all been linked to King Edlyn’s Crusade to take back the Citadel (where the world was born) from monsters, but the entire fleet was wrecked against the Cape of Chaos (a bit like the Spanish Armada or the Mongol invasion of Japan) leaving the survivors washed up as unwelcome intruders on an unfamiliar shore.
Garsian had been fished from the water by two caretakers of this semi-abandoned semi-ruined lighthouse, where the signal fire was now lit most for the local fisherman to find their way safely home. The lighthouse (and the spiders later on), I pulled from Vandel J. Arden’s “Pallid Dunes” entry in Perilous Almanacs, which turned out to be very helpful, though I swapped the order of paladins there for a couple of local fisherfolk, as per Garsian’s starting circumstances. Garsian also somehow ended up with a horse that swam ashore from the crusaders’ ships, so he rode down the beach to look for other survivors and found Holt, Ardith, and Devan. Garsian already had a plan to leave the lighthouse and push toward the Bahazirian Necropolis across the desert to search for loot, wanting to leave right away, but he failed his CHA role to rouse the group into action, since they were so bedraggled from just making it to shore alive.
Consequently, the ended up spending the night in the lighthouse as semi-welcome guests. During the watch that night, Garsian put out the beacon fire just to be a jerk and also because he was the cleric of a god of darkness, but then they failed their watch roll, so a swarming school of tiny florescent flying semi-magical creatures moved toward the lighthouse (I rolled their motivation as “going home”), circling the spire at the top. The locals said that the signal fire had previously kept them away. Rather than confront them directly, Garsian cursed them with darkness and all the lights were extinguished in a shower of sparks. Then everyone went back to bed, after relighting the beacon.
The next day, everyone set off across the desert. Garsian failed his scout roll and Holt got a mixed result on navigation, so they end up walking right into a host of “bear/ape/gorilla droppings” (rolled on the Discovery table!) which stuck to their shoes and smelled bad. Plus, they found somebody’s finger bone (complete with ring still on it) in the poop as they were rubbing it off.
Then, after finishing the day of walking, it was time to make camp for the night. Holt failed the roll for distributing rations, so I ruled that he’d let Ardith carry all of his rations and they she, for some reason, didn’t have them anymore (she ate them or lost them or buried them, something; though I probably just said she’d gotten sand in them and they were ruined). Holt berated Ardith and she went off to sulk and sleep separately from the rest of the group (as a result of a followers roll). Garsian, in turn, lectured everyone as he regretfully passed out his own rations to the group. Devan complained that it wasn’t his fault for an hour before everyone went to bed (another roll for followers).
After all that, then they failed their watch roll and got an immediate Danger with no warning. So I picked the dog-sized poisonous white spiders from Vandel’s almanac, rolling on “no. appearing” and getting 4 of them, one for each sleeper. They woke up to find themselves partially wrapped in spider-silk as the giant creatures prepared to drag them back into their collective lair (“spiders hunt in groups?” Ariel questioned), a large hole in one of the nearby outcroppings.
The fight went well at first: Holt stabbed his spider through the middle, killing it in one blow. Garsian cursed his spider with being drained of all warmth and then shattered it to pieces. The spider wrapping up a still-sleeping Devan then got spooked and started running away, partially thanks to Garsian screaming loudly at everyone. So then Holt and Garsian ran off toward the somewhat-distant spot where Ardith was sleeping. Holt got a mediocre roll on trying to make it to her in time, so I ruled that she was unconscious from the poison and wrapped up, but the spider was only beginning to drag her toward its lair. Holt stabbed at the thing’s pincers but rolled a miss, which I turned into a successful stab but dealt damage as the pincers closed around Holt’s wrist (making his hand start to go numb).
Garsian arrived, banging his long hammer on the ground to try to intimidate the spiders, but rolling a fail despite having a great CHA score. I ruled that the banging got the attention of more spiders underground, so a few more began poking their heads out of the lair entrance. Now worried about being outnumbered, Garsian and Holt seized Ardith’s unconscious/wrapped body from the spiders and began running back towards their own campfire. Devan by this point was finally awake and had worked his way out of the partial spider webbing.
In rolling to carry her back and maintain speed, Garsian failed a DEX roll and tripped on his long robes, dropping his half of Ardith. Sensing the way things were going, Holt dropped his half of Ardith and abandoned Garsian as well, booking it back to camp, away from the spiders. Getting to his feet, Garsian abandoned Ardith as well and ordered an approaching Devan to go fight the monsters, getting a mixed result. Consequently, Devan went to fight them, but in a fearful and kind-of half-assed way, taking the attention of two of the spiders, but clearly not holding his own very well and leaving the other two spiders to scurry after Holt and Garsian.
In the meantime, the two PCs finally located Garsian’s slightly-spooked horse (wish I’d had them roll LUCK for this, but oh well) and rode off to the sound of Devan’s screams. And that’s where we stopped for the night.
Pretty brutal! This game doesn’t mess around.
A couple things I’m thinking about now:
1. So far I’m liking the Journey + Make Camp + Journey + Make Camp sequence of wilderness travel, and I’m hoping that it stays fun and doesn’t get repetitive in the long run. I can see the benefits of recording each encounter in different hexes or other units of a map, though, so you can either go back to the same places or make an effort to avoid them. Otherwise, it seems like travel stays this black box where you never know what to expect, even in well-travelled routes, though I guess you get to stop rolling for familiar routes after a while. Mapping things might help determine when a route counts as familiar, though.It might still be fun to have a move that updates what’s happened in a previously-visited location, though, to ensure that things aren’t always the same as when you left them.
2. It does take a lot of gametime to roll up a new Discovery, Danger, or NPC from scratch, since you have to roll like 10d12 across different tables. I started just rolling 10d12 in an app and then going through the necessary tables all at once, which sped things up. I like the feel of rolling, but it might be easier to have some Abulafia thing that would just generate them for you. It does really show the benefit of using Almanacs, Deeps, or pre-genned adventures, even if you don’t necessarily end up using any of that content straight-up, without alteration, because it means some smart folks have effectively rolled up random stuff for you and thought about how those random traits fit together. So you can just drop those locations, situations, NPCs, or monsters right into the game. Have to say, though I really REALLY like having them broken down by location type and being relatively short rather than being in a long-form format in an alphabetized beastiary, because they’re much easier to find on the fly. Thankfully, even Jason’s Book of Beasts is arranged by terrain type.
3. In this session, it was clearer to me that Make a Saving’s Throw (FoTF’s version of Defy Danger, going appropriately back to that move’s original name in early DW drafts) is the core of what makes the game work, with the other moves not being supplemental moves or rulings per say but helpfully fleshing out types of actions that need a little more to them than what a Saving’s Throw roll would provide. Consequently, I think the other moves could be potentially open to some tweaking for different campaigns or groups (building on the concept from A Storm Eternal that all moves are basically rulings at heart), even though I think they’re some of the best moves that have ever been written for DW and provide an excellent foundation. Though maybe that’s just my biases from playing World of Dungeons talking.
In any event, great game, fun session, lots of failures, but hopefully the players aren’t too disheartened. Excited to see what happens when we maybe face some dungeons next time, at the Necropolis.