Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Eternal Contenders: Oblim, Round 1

I've been thinking a lot about the GM-less part of Neon Burn, and although I think I have a fairly good handle on the way I want it to work, I've decided to try out a couple of GM-less games to get a better feel for them. I've read through a few such games, and read reviews of others, but there's nothing like a bit of practical experience.

Last night, John and I made a couple of fighters for Eternal Contenders and managed to get through quite a few scenes since there was just the two of us.

The game uses playing cards for scene resolution, more detailed round-by-round fights, and for random events. Generally, red cards are successes and black cards are failures, but whoever drew the highest black card gets to narrate the outcome of the scene. Normally the player to your left represents the Forces of Adversity; as it was just the two of us, we provided adversity for the other.

Character creation was pretty quick; there's only a few points to assign, and only a handful of Techniques to consider rather than an expansive list. The hardest part was coming up with a good concept and a suitable Connection - the thing or person your warrior's hopes rest on.

  • I play Talisa, a Dark-Friend street urchin who's caring for a young orphan boy. She hopes to gain fame and glory so she can provide him with a better life, and fears that he might end up as a good-for-nothing like herself. As a fighter she is quick and lithe, focusing on Mobility and Guard. Her dark power comes from a mysterious shadowy entity that inhabits her body, although the details remain hazy.
  • John plays Stefan, a Rapscallion with aspirations to run the local assassin's guild. He hopes to climb through their ranks, and fears being run out of town by them - or worse. As a fighter he focuses on the long haul, with high Guard and Stamina.

Since there's no GM, players take turns framing scenes for their own characters, which fall into various categories - I'll mark the scene types with bold in the narrative. As I want to talk about the session structure and both of our choices, I won't be writing the entry from my character's point of view.

We decided to set the game in the provided dark fantasy setting, the port city of Oblim.

With little wealth on hand, Talisa decides to work the crowd at the Pentangle crossroads by lightening some purses. Unfortunately, as she moves in on a mark, someone bumps her from behind and she is pushed into her intended victim. There is a hue and cry, and she is grabbed and dragged away by the city guard to spend the night in a cell. She manages to give them the slip before being thrown in the dungeon.

The very first scene went really badly, as I drew no successes against one success from the job. Utter failure!

Stefan seeks out a back-alley dealer and trades coin for a potent poison.

Talisa, still destitute and having heard about Stefan's purchase, wants the poison for herself and decides to rob him. She jumps him in a dark alleyway and manages to wrest the bottle from his possession before darting away into the night.

Stefan refuses to give up so easily, and gives chase to teach her a lesson. The two engage in a vicious back-street brawl, but neither can overwhelm the other. They are forced to break it up and flee in opposite directions as the alarm is raised and the Watch draws near.

John only realised he could add a bonus success to Threat scenes due to his "Ominous" Technique after we'd resolved the robbery. Both Robbery and Brawl are Threat scenes; it was only with the bonus success that he managed to draw even in the brawl.

Talisa still desperately needs coin, so she takes on menial work as a courier delivering a package of illegal goods across town for a crime boss. Unfortunately the city is crawling with guards, no doubt on alert after all the back-alley fighting that's been going on, so she's forced to take many detours to avoid patrols. She delivers the package eventually but is late, so receives only half the promised pay and a clip around her ear for her trouble.

Stefan takes on work from the Assassin's Guild - a minor contract to assassinate one of the city guards who's been a little too zealous in his duties. Although he manages to complete the deed, he is witnessed doing so, and the authorities know his face. He manages to escape, but only receives half pay for a messy job.

John realised that it's more profitable to set a large payment (which makes the job more difficult) and hope that, with at least one success, you'll earn half the pay and a point of Pain. Taking smaller jobs increases the chance of outright success (and a full, but small, payment), but it doesn't much alter the chance of you failing utterly by getting no successes at all, as I did in the first scene. If you get no successes, your only hope is that the job draws no successes either.

Talisa connects with the young orphan she's caring for. The two of them are basically camping out in a ruined building, and Talisa's trying to prevent him from becoming involved in the slum society. She spends all her wealth to bring him food. While he's OK for the moment, though, he's still no closer to putting his life on the streets behind him.

Neither I nor the Forces of Adversity got any successes on this scene, so the outcome was "ambivalent."

Stefan connects with his contact at the Assassin's Guild, apologising for the messy job and offering a tithe to smooth things over. His contact is pleased, and it looks as though Stefan's career in the Guild is on its way up. 

Talisa sought Stefan out in the dingy tavern known as the Rusty Chain, and challenged him to a duel! She taunted him about thinking he's a big-shot now he's killed a Guard, but that didn't stop her stealing his poison vial earlier! He accepts the challenge, and they are swept downstairs to the basement arena by a crowd eager for blood!

We drew randomly for the details of the fight. I had a choice between a 2 or 4 round fight, and chose 2 as it was getting late and Talisa doesn't have the Stamina for long matches. We also ended up with a Healing Arena which would automatically remove a Wound at the end of each round; we kind of forgot about that, but as it turns out it wouldn't have had any effect on a two-round fight because of the Wound allocation timing.

The duel begins on the dusty, sawdust-strewn basement floor, surrounded by a crowd of onlookers. Stefan bets all of his remaining money on himself; penniless, Talisa can only hope for a victory to fill her purse.

This is an all-or-nothing match to see who can fight their way out of the gutter, so Stefan comes powering out of his corner and Talisa is forced to go all-out to match him! She ducks low and fast, manoeuvring past his buckler and inflicting a minor wound with her poisoned wrist-blades!

In game terms, John opted to Bring the Pain: once per fight, a Warrior can add their Pain rating to their attack, and if they hit, half their Pain to damage. I did the same and just came out on top, inflicting 1 Wound; however, I not only forgot to add half my Pain to the damage I drew, but I also forgot to draw the 3 extra damage cards Talisa gets when Bringing the Pain because of her "Faith in Pain" Technique... so I could have done a lot better!

Stefan continues his rampage, bearing down on Talisa to crush her with his mighty fists. She tries to throw dust in his eyes and take his feet out from under him, but he barrels straight through and smashes his fist into her head. Talisa is knocked to the ground, her ears ringing. Although she stands, the match is over.

Due to his "Blackguard's Faith" Technique, Stefan can Bring the Pain twice in one fight. Since Talisa was unable to do so, I chose Dishonourable Devices in an attempt to maximise my defence and offence. Although the judges didn't spot the trick and penalise her, the tactic didn't help much.

Stefan wins the match, with 2 VP to 1. He gains wealth and accolades, while Talisa earns a pittance and must slink off into the shadows. She has been pushed to the limit, and is now on the edge of doing something desperate to improve her situation.

Stefan gained 2 Wealth, plus another 2 from his wager, plus 2 Renown, and lost a point of Pain. Talisa gained 1 Wealth and a point of Pain, and would have gained 1 Renown except it was cancelled out because I used Dishonourable Devices and then lost the fight!

I had a really fun time, and it's been great to write up as well. Apart from needing to frequently look up procedures and clarify rules, the game was quick, light, and easy. Now we've played a couple of hours of it, things should start to play more smoothly.

I can't say the cards were particularly kind to me, but it was still fun to see my character being ground down and nearly overwhelmed with the pain of her existence. I'm looking forward to seeing if Talisa will resist the spiral into darkness, or turn into a hopelessly lost monster. So far we're about half-way through the game, so another good session ought to finish it off. Once a Warrior reaches a certain Renown score (depending how long you want the game to last) it triggers an End-Game tournament which determines the overall champion and resolves all of the Warriors' hopes or fears.

It worked pretty well just with the two of us, but I'm really looking forward to trying it out with a larger group!

>>> Round 2

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