Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Eternal Contenders: Oblim, Round 2

John and I finished off our Eternal Contenders game in this second session. Here's a link to the first session Actual Play. If people want to discuss the game in general, the author +Joe Prince  is on G+, along with an +Eternal Contenders page.
  • 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.

After her ignominious defeat by Stefan in the Rusty Chain, Talisa's spirit is close to breaking. She moves to the outskirts of the city for a bit, working hard as part of a construction crew, and actually manages to earn some honest coin. Among the camaraderie of her workmates, she actually starts to feel like there might be some hope after all.

Stefan connects with his contact at the Assassin's Guild again and pays them a significant amount from his winnings. However, he feels like he's not making any real progress towards his goal. It feels a bit like the Guild is stringing him along.

Talisa trains her manoeuvrability by running and leaping from rooftop to rooftop.

Stefan works as a standover man for the Assassin's Guild. His threatening presence and growing reputation motivate the business-owner to pay up, and Stefan receives his fair share of the profits.

Talisa visits a black-market trader, and trades the poison she stole from Stefan for a set of long black leather boots with grippy soles, enhancing her manoeuvrability even further.

Stefan goes down to the beach, and in a gruelling training session he pushes through the pain barrier to improve his manoeuvrability and strength by running through chest-deep water.

We weren't sure if you were allowed to "Push Through the Pain Barrier" to train Traits, or only Techniques. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. It turns out "Pushing Through" is only supposed to work when learning a second Technique in the same training session.

Talisa confronts Stefan at the beach, and challenges him to a duel, but he refuses!

John mostly did this to gain the point of Pain that comes with refusing, although he lost a point of Renown as well.

When Talisa walks back towards town through the dunes, Stefan follows and robs her! She is totally blindsided by the mugging; although she doesn't have any money, Stefan steals her knife and her shiny new boots.

Bitter from the robbery, Talisa tracks Stefan back to the Rusty Chain. She grabs a tankard off the bar and throws it at him, then leaps to the attack! Despite her anger and desperation, Stefan takes the upper hand in the brawl and beats her badly. After her dirty tactics in the previous duel, the crowd at the Chain is against her too, and she's soon thrown out into the street.

In the Rusty Chain's doorway, with Talisa crawling away bloodied and beaten, Stefan challenges all comers, but none can rise to answer his call.

After the Brawl, Talisa's Pain had finally crossed the limit (it normally can't be more than four points higher than Hope), which meant that her next Scene had to be "The Pain Revealed." Since answering Stefan's Challenge would have placed the Duel in Talisa's already-committed next scene, we decided that she was unable to accept the challenge. I've since learned that if there is a scene-scheduling conflict like that, the Duel can take place during the Challenger's next scene instead.

Talisa struggles back to the hovel she shares with the young orphan-boy, Rogan. The boy tries to care for her but she brushes him off and retreats to the far corner, the pain revealed in her heart. The dark forces that dwell within her have risen to the surface. She thinks to herself, "wouldn't it be easier to just kill the boy now and spare him from this life of misery and pain?" She refrains, however, and instead dedicates herself to destroying Stefan at any cost. The shadows around her shift and crawl with malevolence as she embraces the pain.

Shortly after, Stefan tracks Talisa down in the slums and makes a point to brawl in front of Rogan, once more beating her down. As he leaves, he points threateningly at the boy. On the ground, Talisa fixes him with a death-stare as her shadow seethes.

In a bid to regain what Stefan has taken from her, Talisa goes to work - this time ambushing a rich merchant in his sedan chair. She scuffles messily with his guards, and manages to make off with some money and jewellery.

Stefan hears about Talisa's heist. Determined to prove himself the better thief, he works out a plan to rob a city official. Unfortunately the job does not go smoothly, and he ends up wounding the tax collector (perhaps fatally) and is witnessed leaving with only some of the loot.

Talisa connects with her darker side, training her shadow to reach out and inflict wounds with its Infernal Touch.

After his previous job went badly, Stefan must face his own pain revealed. He embraces it, walking the streets shouting like a madman to everyone that he's an assassin, he's going to destroy the city, and they'll all burn!

In a back-alley deal, Talisa trades the remainder of her coin for a crude shiv that she soon hopes to introduce to Stefan.

Stefan's once more walking around town challenging anyone and everyone to a fight. Talisa steps forward and accepts, and they agree to six rounds in the middle of the Pentangle, Oblim's town centre!

As soon as the duel begins, both fighters bring the full power of their considerable pain to bear! Stefan charges forward, while Talisa plays dirty; her shadow blurs and slides, obscuring her true location. The two fighters come together - Stefan lands a mighty head-butt, which drops Talisa to the ground. On her way down, however, she thrusts upward and lands a vicious blow with her shiv. Stefan stops in his tracks and crumples to the ground. Talisa slowly picks herself up, dazed but elated by her sudden victory!

The conflict beteen the two warriors has become such a major event and a disruption to the city that the underworld decides it's time to put an end to the feud once and for all. The Assassin's Guild will host one final match.

Stefan burns his bridges, "connecting" with the Assassin's Guild by getting up in the Rusty Chain and admitting his status as a member. He even goes as far as to point out other Guild members in the crowd, thus making himself really unpopular!

Since he deliberately spent little money and thus performed really badly, this move allowed John to generate a lot of extra Pain to bring to the final match.

Talisa goes on one final trading expedition, spending all of her duel winnings on a bag of caltrops and a nasty "scissor-blade" qatar.

The Caltrops give +3 to Manoeuvre, and the Qatar gives +3 Power.

The duel takes place in a smoky stone arena, a circular bricked pit deep beneath the city. The crowd seethed with expectance and malevolence, eager for blood.

At the first bell, both warriors erupt from their corners, going all-out. Both bring the full weight of their pain to bear, pulling out all the stops to try and end the fight quickly. However, the collision of fury almost cancels itself out; after the exchange, Stefan manages to inflict a small wound.

With Traits, Tactics, Items and Pain, we ended up drawing about 21 cards each for the attack!

Stefan brings the pain again, so Talisa goes on the defensive. This time Stefan manages to overpower Talisa and knock her down, and it looks as though he will dominate the match.

Talisa uses her dark powers, blurring in and seriously wounding Stefan with her shadow. She leeches off some of his health, restoring her own wounds in the process.

Stefan attempts an aggressive advance, but Talisa dances to the side and uses her shiv to stab him in the leg, slowing him down a little.

Both warriors are starting to wear down, and both go on the defensive. They briefly connect with each other, but neither manages to have much effect.

In the final round, Stefan charges forward aggressively. Talisa manages to trip him, and he smashes face-first into the floor!

At the final count, Stefan has 3 VP to Talisa's 5 VP. Talisa is declared the champion, much to her surprise and relief!

Now that Stefan has proven himself unworthy and a liability, the Assassin's Guild members leap upon him and tear him to pieces, throwing his body into the river.

Despite the riches and glory that come with victory, Talisa catches sight of Rogan in the crowd. The orphan, whom she had tried to protect from the horror and violence of her world, is watching her with enthusiasm and pride, the gleam of admiration in his eye. She sees Rogan's shadow blur and shift as hers does, and a feeling of anguish grips her as she realises her victory has only maintained the cycle of darkness and despair.

In the end, our characters sacrificed all they held dear in order to achieve ultimate victory. Both of our characters' Hope was many times lower than Pain.

Having gone through and figured out which scenes result in what changes, it's very easy to accumulate Pain and very difficult to gain Hope. The game's Hope/Pain economy is pretty much set up so that, unless things go perfectly for you, having Hope higher than Pain probably means you'll be lacking the resources required to actually win fights. Embracing Pain is a quick and easy way to gain power, but using this tactic all but guarantees that you'll get a "bad ending" and realise all your worst Fears for your Connections.

Eternal Contenders is a fun and interesting game. I need to work more at creating and embellishing descriptions of what's happening. There are many areas of the rules that say "this should be narrated appropriately" but there is almost nothing specifically tying the narration to the mechanics (apart from justifying Item use). It would be possible to play through a game by referring entirely to the mechanics, with no descriptions other than "I train my Power" or "I hit you, dealing two Wounds."

I suppose that this sort of descriptiveness depends entirely on the group. Having run Apocalypse World, though, I can see how descriptions in that are required in order to feed into the mechanics, and that the mechanics also feed back into the fiction. While it's awesome the way it does that, I'm not entirely sure how I can apply a similar structure to Neon Burn. The racing part of the game is pretty much all mechanical, feeding into the fiction insofar as it provides a result for the event (shot down, drop out, place, win). However, as it stands, it doesn't really matter how you describe your driving style, the dice aren't going to be affected. During the "roleplaying scenes" there's currently not much procedural incentive for adding descriptions apart from personal preference. I haven't quite finalised the procedure for playing out scenes though, so I'll look out for places where the fiction might be able to direct the mechanics.

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