Actual Play from the campsite

(I cross-posted this on the Forge. You might be interested in seeing any discussion that appears over there.)

INTRODUCTION

This weekend my wife Crystal and I went camping. Among other things, we had scheduled a session of Trollbabe. I bought this game for Crystal last Christmas, but so far we had only played it on our anniversary. So, it seemed like a good time to pull it out. It’s apparently turning into a date night RPG for us, and this was an extended date night, after all….

So, at about 3:00 p.m. on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, we sat on a picnic table on the edge of the woods at our campsite and played Trollbabe.

ACCOUNT OF PLAY

So, the basic situation is that there’s a fishing village near the Blood Gate, which is the opening of a large fjord. Each year, the people in the village draw lots to see who will have to sacrifice their daughter to Dagon, a fish-entity of some kind that they worship as a god. If they do not sacrifice to him, then he will destroy their fishing harvest. This year, Astrid, the daughter of Njall the chief, was selected. He does not like this, so he is casting about for a replacement. He orders men of the village to scour the surrounding area, looking for a woman to be sacrificed.

So, of course, they come across Maple the trollbabe. Their attempt to capture Maple is easily overcome by the trollbabe, who then questions one of the survivors and learns the entire story. So Maple heads into town to see what she can do about this mess.

Upon entering the town, she is quickly met by Skuli, the priest of Dagon, who takes her into his home to keep her safe from the chief. Exhausted from her journey, Maple falls asleep in his house, only to be awakened later by the sacrificial drums. Maple begins to weave a magical spell to release Astrid and sway the minds of the people, which is enough to spur Gunnar, Astrid’s brother, to leap into action and save Astrid. He carries her into Njall’s house and barricades himself inside.
When Njall and the villagers arrive in the town square, at first he orders that they break down the door to the house to retrieve Astrid. Again, Maple intervenes, weaving her magic to influence Njall to put a stop to the madness. She succeeds, which provokes a conflict between Njall and Skuli. Njall says that the sacrifice is wickedness, and the priest calls Njall a blasphemer. Maple, disguised in the crowd, supports the chief by speaking in his defense, trying to sway the crowd’s opinion. She succeeds, and the crowd disperses by Njall’s command. As the crowd melts away, Njall and Skuli remain, glowering at each other across the emptying town square.

Then Maple went down to the water. There she reached out with her mind to contact Dagon in the waters below. Gathering up the collected agony of all the fathers who had lost their daughters, she poured their pain into Dagon. Thrashing in fear and disbelief, Dagon abandoned the waters of the Blood Gate, swimming out further into the ocean. Thinking that this was a good night’s work, Maple curled up on the altar stone to go to sleep.

Upon awakening, Maple found that Astrid was curled up on the ground by the altar stone. She was not happy to be rescued. Instead, she had been seeking to die. Before Maple could find out why, Gunnar strode down to the water, looking for Astrid. Upon hearing that Dagon had been driven off, Gunnar was exultant. Now he could finally have his heart’s desire. What this was became all too clear. Gunnar desired to marry Astrid. Maple drove him away, refusing to permit him to take Astrid. As it was, Astrid revealed that Gunnar had already raped her once.

Maple refused to allow this to happen again. So she prepared to leave town, taking Astrid with her. As they started to leave, they were confronted by Njall, Skuli, and Gunnar. Each in turn attempted to prevent Maple from leaving.

First, Njall ordered his retainers to attack Maple. She skillfully defeated them. Then, when Njall charged her, axe raised high, she casually grabbed the axe, lifted Njall into the air, and tossed him in a heap on the ground.

Second, Skuli attempted to use his magic to prevent Maple from leaving. They locked their wills in magical combat, but Skuli was no match for Maple. She shattered his magical staff and left him defeated on his knees.

Finally, as Maple ushered Astrid past these defeated enemies, Gunnar pulled a knife and threw it at Astrid, trying to kill her. With a single motion, Maple spun, snatching the knife out of the air, and hurled it back at Gunnar, impaling him in the groin. He crumpled without a sound.

None remained to face Maple. But, as she turned to leave, she felt someone tug at her feet. It was Skuli. “Please,� he begged. “Before you go, let me tell my daughter farewell.� There, in the town square, in front of everyone, he confessed that he had slept with Njall’s wife, who had conceived Astrid and died giving birth to her. In a rage, Njall leaped to his feet. “I’m sorry,� Skuli said to Astrid, right before Njall’s axe embedded in his head.

On the way out of town, Maple asked Astrid, “Are you sure that you want to come with me?� Astrid replied, “I have nowhere else to go.� So away they went.

THOUGHTS ON GAMEPLAY

A few thoughts about the game.

***

As we got into play, we quickly discovered that Crystal had some misunderstandings about how injury worked in the system. She thought that any failed Series resulted in injury. When this came to light, we backtracked to the beginning of the conflict in question and gave it another go. Suddenly everything worked much better. I actually hauled out the chart showing how Series worked so that I could point and say, “Now, we’re right here. If you fail, then this happens.� I think that this was helpful. Of course, from that point on, Crystal failed exactly one die roll. It just wasn’t fair!

***

One of my favorite parts of Trollbabe is the map. Initially, even though there are names on the map, they are simply that…names. Last time Maple was in Foggy Bottom, and this time she was en route to the Blood Gate. What does this mean? Nothing at first. However, as the game goes on, each of these locations gain history through play. If Maple were to return to Foggy Bottom or the Blood Gate, there would be people there who would remember her. Also, established features from these locations could easily spill out into other adventures, tying the otherwise episodic events together. Essentially, the play group is building the world through play, and all of this happening very quietly in the background.

***

It’s been a while since I’ve had to do formal prepwork for a game. Most of my roleplaying of late has been either Polaris or Universalis, which have no GM role. However, I found that the prep was quite simple. I started with a classic chieftain/priest conflict, spun it a bit, tossed in some classic King David issues (e.g. 2 Samuel 13, where David’s eldest son rapes his half-sister), and we were ready to go. The breakout moment of prep for me was when I sketched the relationship map of the different characters. Ron’s rule of only showing familial and sexual bonds paid off. Additional conflicts leaped out at me as I drew a couple of extra lines on the diagram. All in all, it was quite helpful.

***

The night before, Crystal and I were talking about how she find that roleplaying can be an outlet to work through issues that she is dealing with, as long as the players are people that she trusts. Since we’re married, we share a depth of relationship that we don’t have with anyone else. As a result, both of us feel more comfortable with certain sorts of content and story development in our one-on-one games than we might have in other contexts. That was certainly the case in this game.

***

I do have a question regarding Pacing “strategy�, if there is such a thing. As GM, I’ve found that manipulating Pace is about the only way that I have direct mechanical intervention in the game. (The other bit is setting Action Type, of course, but I only get that if I call for the conflict.) Generally, I’ve functioned with the idea that it’s better for me to stretch out the Pace if I’m trying to get the trollbabe to fail. Is this correct? Or should I be thinking about Pacing differently?

IN CONCLUSION

I can see why a number of people have recommended this game for two-player play. It’s crisp, relatively simple, yet still allows for robust stories. I’d be curious to see how it plays with multiple trollbabes, but, honestly, I’m enjoying the idea of having a game for just Crystal and myself.

In closing, I’d like to offer my highest compliment to Trollbabe. Maple and Astrid are traveling into the south, looking for some peace, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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