As normal, I’ve cross-posted this report. You can take a look at the Forge and Story Games for other discussions of this report.
At last! For the first time in a while, I actually have a Legends of Alyria actual play report. Rejoice!
Last Friday, my family got together with some close friends and celebrated The Night of the Burning Plum, which is a group tradition of ours. (For more details on this, check out here, here, and here.) Once we had concluded the eveningÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s festivities, we planned on doing some gaming. Some folks had to watch children or were tired, so, in the end, four of us gathered later that evening to play Legends of Alyria.
Seth–That’s me. I’ve played a heap of roleplaying games, and I designed Legends of Alyria. I haven’t played in quite some time, though, as a result of being thoroughly burned out and discouraged about Alyria. In the wake of its recent publication, though, I’ve received a lot of love for the game. So I found myself looking forward a great deal to playing.
Gabrielle–My sister. She’s been around for most of the development of the game and is intimately familiar with both the system and setting.
Raquel–A friend of ours and James’ sister-in-law. The majority of Raquel’s roleplaying experience is from Polaris. However, she did a final proofread on the Alyria manuscript and, therefore, had read it through once. She was still essentially a newbie to Alyria, though.
James–A close friend of ours and Raquel’s brother-in-law. James has expressed an interest in trying out this roleplaying thing for quite some time, but life and schedules have not cooperated. He thinks that he might have played in a session of D&D once in high school, but that’s about it. Also, the only bits of Alyria with which he was familiar were the stories that I had posted on my blog. In other words, he was completely new to both Alyria and roleplaying in general.
Margary–James’ daughter. Margary is about two weeks old, but she joined us for a while at the gaming table so that James’ wife could get some sleep. She didn’t really contribute much, but she was there.
In Legends of Alyria, the group prepares their situation together, by creating a “storymap”? of important characters and conflicts. It looks a lot like a pitch session from Primetime Adventures, actually, with players brainstorming ideas that slowly coalesce into a workable starting point for the game.
In our particular case, I quickly realized that I would need to be more assertive than normal in getting through prep. By the time we started play, it was 10:45 p.m. after a fairly full day, and I knew that we needed to get some traction quickly, or the players would all lose interest. So, first of all, I suggested that, in keeping with the evening’s theme, we should have the story include a burning plum. Then I asked Raquel for the bits of Alyria that particularly interested her. We briefed James on those parts of Alyria, then we started brainstorming characters.
We quickly arrived at the following characters:
Tuttle–a lightning jack from the Web, hired by Pat to steal the Burning Plum
Traits: Honor (Sext), Confident (Terce)
Starting Inspiration/Corruption: 1/1
Saffron–Tuttle’s girlfriend/significant other and partner in crime. Any resemblance to the character of the same name from Firefly is purely intentional.
Traits: Seductive (Lauds), Disenchanted (Lauds)
Starting Inspiration/Corruption: 1/0
Sirius–a young Noble from the Citadel, leading a small patrol into the Web to recover the Plum. This character was actually supposed to be a “prequel”? version of the Sirius from another Alyria game that Gabrielle and I had played. So, for a couple of us, the content of the game had additional weight, as we had the context of that past game to work with.
Traits: Ambitious (Matins), Looking for God (Terce)
Starting Inspiration/Corruption: 0/0
Pat–A horribly mutated Blessed, living in the Web, who wanted the Plum for its potential healing ability. We deliberately left Pat’s gender undetermined. Indeed, we had a lot of fun swapping around pronouns at random, like this: “Pat is concerned that if he doesn’t get the Plum, she will not be able to heal itself.”?
Traits: Completely Self-centered (Matins), Bitter (Lauds)
Starting Inspiration/Corruption: 0/2
(Aside: we actually used the old moon phase symbols when we played the game, but I’m translating to the clock faces for this report.)
I was concerned that James wouldn’t have sufficient background to really connect with game prep, which could have been a serious thing. Player buy-in to the situation is a critical part of any roleplaying game, and, in Legends of Alyria, that is usually achieved through being involved in game prep. However, James quickly rose to the occasion.
First, when the central character was being formed, we explained to James what a lightning jack does. He quickly said, “Then we should name him Tuttle”, referring to the character from the movie Brazil. It seemed to fit quite well. Then James announced that he was rooting for Tuttle. So, it was a no-brainer to assign Tuttle to James.
I should explain that last statement. In Legends of Alyria, characters are developed for the storymap by the group. Only after they are established are players actually given characters to control. So, once we had nailed down the characters that were involved, we handed them out to players. James got Tuttle, Gabrielle took Pat, Raquel took Saffron, and I ended up with Sirius.
Maybe I’m channeling all the noir that I’ve been consuming recently, but the storymap did seem like a classic noir. Here’s the MacGuffin (the Plum), and here are all the characters who want it. Worked out quite well, too.
We started off with a simple priming event: Tuttle is having second thoughts about giving the Plum to Pat. Saffron disagrees, because she wants the money. Go!
Things spiked quite rapidly, thanks to James. He said that Tuttle would want to return their initial payment to Pat, what with Tuttle being honorable and all that. In our first conflict of the game, he and Saffron argued about this. James won the conflict and narrated how Tuttle pretended to back down and then tied up Saffron when she wasn’t expecting it. So, Tuttle goes off to tell Pat the bad news.
After stashing the Plum somewhere (as yet undetermined), Tuttle tells Pat of his decision. We rapidly end up in a conflict, with Pat trying to intimidate Tuttle. At this point, I explain how a player can spend Inspiration or Corruption to buy the victory in a conflict and how that has to impact narration. So, James pays a point of Corruption for the win. Gabrielle doesn’t cancel him, so he wins. Tuttle isn’t cowed by Pat, but he lies to Pat, saying that Saffron has the Plum and didn’t want to give it up. So Pat leaves to find Saffron.
In the meantime, Sirius and his patrol find Saffron. They recognize her as having been involved in the heist, and they decide that she can lead them to Tuttle and the Plum. Saffron tries to use her feminine wiles on Sirius, but doesn’t succeed…yet.
Right as the patrol is about to move out, Pat shows up and starts getting rowdy. A brief firefight breaks out, with Sirius delivering the final blow from his power gauntlets which ripped the floor out from under Pat, dropping it onto a platform below, stunning her. Then Sirius and his patrol moved out, taking Saffron with them.
At this point, Sirius made Saffron guide them to a place where Tuttle might be hiding. We decided that the conflict would be if Tuttle was aware of their arrival and was not caught flat-footed. Tuttle won handily and was already in hiding by the time that the patrol arrived at the building where he had been hiding. Sirius was displeased and sent his patrol out to scour the area for Tuttle.
Now that he was alone, Saffron pulled out all the stops, trying to gain the emotional upper hand over Sirius. She was wildly successful. She went to the door, locked it, and turned around, making her bedroom eyes. We cut away at that point, but we were all pretty sure that we knew what happened.
In the meantime, Sirius’ patrol hunted for Tuttle and eventually captured him. Right as they were dragging Tuttle in front of Sirius and Saffron, Pat tapped into Tuttle’s mind, trying to find the location of the Plum. Tuttle managed to fight off the incursion but collapsed in an unconscious heap, bleeding from his ears.
Sirius, accompanied by Saffron, took Tuttle down to the Citadel to torture him. However, Tuttle stayed strong in the face of the torment. He looked Sirius in the face and said, “I know what I’m fighting for. What are you fighting for?” Then he clapped Sirius on both sides of the head, stunning him. Then he ripped out the electrical cables from the chair and used them to attack his guards, making good on his escape.
In the hallway, he found Saffron with a couple of guards. Together, they overcame the guards and headed back into the Web. It’s important to note that Tuttle did not know that Saffron had betrayed him.
Meanwhile, Pat went back to its hut. Putting his affairs in order, he then set fire to her hut, killing itself. All that was left was a smoldering hole.
Saffron managed to worm her way back into Tuttle’s good graces, so he told her where he had stashed the Plum: right inside Pat’s hut.
Saffron supported Tuttle as he limped towards Pat’s hut. When they arrived and saw the destruction, Saffron revealed her true colors. Without a word, she released Tuttle, who fell to the ground, and walked away into the Web. Tuttle, grieviously wounded, crawled to the edge of the hole and looked down. With his last breath, he prayed for Sirius, that he would have a change of heart.
In the Citadel below this part of the Web, Sirius walked alone. In a small park he found the wreckage of Pat’s hut. Within the rubble was a glowing orb, but, when he picked it up, it crumbled into fine sparkling dust. For a moment, Sirius looked up at the Web and, past it, to the sky. Then he continued on his way, deep in thought.
And thus ended the story.
A word on protagonism
I’m finding it interesting to return to Legends of Alyria, after having seen the development of roleplaying theory over the last several years. In particular, I noticed an interesting fact about Alyria that just might be unique to it.
A stand-out feature of Legends of Alyria is the player vs. player design, where all important characters are played by players. As a result, all antagonism is supplied by another player, not by an “impersonal” GM. Add to this the fact that, normally, a player will only control one character, and you have an unavoidable fact: in Legends of Alyria, at least one person will find himself playing a bad guy. This isn’t necessarily clear in game prep, either. In this game, I had pegged Pat as our antagonist, but, in reality, Saffron was the primary antagonist. I could sympathize with the other characters, but I found myself hating Saffron. As it was, Saffron actually experienced a Virtue shift from Terce to Lauds during the game, due to the actions that she was taking. I know that this bothered Raquel, as she did not like the actions that Saffron was choosing. At the same time, there was a hard logic about it all. Everything Saffron did made sense. But, to be the one specifically responsible for it….
So, in some ways, I’ve discovered that my game is a lot harsher on its players than I originally thought. In some games, you get to pick your protagonist at the beginning. In others, you have to find your protagonist. In Legends of Alyria, you have to find your *antagonist*. And it may be you. That’s pretty hard-core, if you think about it.
Raquel, if you end up reading this, I’d be curious for your thoughts on this in the Forge thread.
A word on Creative Agenda
Since James was new to roleplaying, I explained the goal of Legends of Alyria as the collaborative creation of a story. This clicked with him. At the same time, when I described the conflict system, his eyes lit up. “It *is* a game!”? he exclaimed. The strategy of resource management and Trait activation connected with him.
So, I was quite pleased when, at one point, James looked at his Attributes and said, “My Force is higher than my other Attributes, but I don’t really think that Tuttle should use his Force in this case. After all, it’s not just about winning, but about making a good story.”? So he selected a different Attribute. In that particular case, if I recall correctly, using Force would have required Tuttle to beat Saffron or something like that, and James didn’t want to guide the story in that direction. It seemed like the perfect balance: striving for victory for your character while still keeping an eye on the larger story. It made me happy.
Time of play
From beginning to end, we played for about 3 hours. That includes tutorial functions, game prep, and game play, plus dealing with a fussy infant. While I prefer to have more time available, I was pleased to see that we were able to have a satisfying game session in such a short time, especially considering that we were starting almost totally from scratch.
Playing without a Narrator
Legends of Alyria has a GM-ish sort of position, called the Narrator. However, according to the game text, a game group might opt out of having someone filling this position. Just as long as the Narrator functions are being accomplished, then you don’t really need to have a single person dedicated to that role. When I originally wrote that, it was mostly theory. I had played enough to know that it would work just fine, but I had never actually attempted it. Well, on Friday, that’s exactly what we did. Since I knew the game the best, I taught all the rules and “moderated” the discussion, but it was more along the lines of managing the discussion. Beyond that, I played my character, just like everyone else, and generally didn’t take any additional authority beyond what the other players could wield. And, I’m pleased to say, it worked out quite nicely.
For the last several months, my wife and I have been trying to get Legends of Alyria into print, mostly so that I could have a sense of completion with the project. Thinking about playing it would generally make me sad. After all, this may have been a game that was relevant in 2002, but there have been so many other games released since then. I was sure that Alyria’s time had come and gone. But now I don’t believe that to be the case. I’ve played a number of the latest and greatest games out there, and I think that Legends of Alyria will measure up just fine. In fact, I am looking forward to applying what I’ve learned from other games when I played Legends of Alyria.
Back when I was crafting the Alyria setting, I was generally looking at the coolness factor. This seems neat! I like that! Put this thing in, too! It was only when I was finished that I began to realize all the deep conflicts that existed in the game and how they reflected various personal concerns of mine. I discovered things in my game that I didn’t realize were there.
I wonder if that will happen again. I certainly hope so.