The Road to Caracorumbis

edited September 2010 in Actual Play
I will be posting snippets from my Road to Caracorumbis campaign here. The game is a Dying Earth -esque road story, using Solar System / TSoY. Player pool in two figures, but max five players per session. All the characters are traveling -- for their own various reasons -- to the legendary city of Caracorumbis.

Caracorumbis is all things to all men. Something between Atlantis, Shangri-La, Shanghai, and New York in reputation. Getting there isn't the point. One possible interpretation of Transcendence is "arriving in Caracorumbis."

Session #1: Cheats and Saints

Character Creation

Character creation took maybe two and a half hours for the three players present.

First I went over the rules, then we talked about the characters and their backgrounds without reference to the rules. Then we made up the characters as per rules.

Everyone already had a good idea about what they wanted to play: I had sent them a few character centric questions to think about. Everyone created a thumbnail sketch of the weird-ass culture they were from, and talked about their character concept.

Picking abilities went pretty smoothly, but things pretty much ground to halt when choosing secrets. Need to figure out how to present the options here better.

Keys were much smoother sailing.

I think people are quite happy with the way their characters ended up being represented by the rules, though there will be some tweaks later. (Rewriting one key to be more appropriate, and probably switching a couple of misunderstood abilities around.)

Actual Play

Here's the context for the first, um, actually, make that the only extended conflict that occurred.

When traveling in a small caravan across pustza-like plains, one morning the characters are missing a horse. It's picked-clean skeleton is found in a puddle of blood some way from the camp. Think a chicken skeleton after dinner, but it's a horse. Plus blood.

So next night they post a guard. Devor, a dishonest lawman with a behaviour enforcing anklet (he gets nauseous when he breaks the laws of his homeland), is standing guard when he starts getting sleepier and sleepier.

He loses the initial conflict and is about to fall a sleep when I remind the player that he can always declare an extended conflict if he wants. He does so, and promptly takes some harm.

The player realizes that he doesn't have any real leverage in the conflict as it stands. He elects to fire his pistol to wake people up.

His parallel action to pull the trigger before succumbing to sleep fails while the sleep-inducement succeeds.

Next morning people find the guard asleep cuddling his pistol while an elderly scholar has gone missing. A bit later the remains of the scholar are found.


Rules confusions:

There were some minor confusions regarding the rules that cropped up during the game.

Some of it was about how to roll and what to add, etc. Totally my fault due to muddled explanation. For the next game (with a totally different set of players) I've written a short summary to ease this.

Some of it was misunderstanding of secrets. There was minor perpetual confusion about the term -- perhaps because most of the characters have plenty of dirty personal secrets. Additionally, in most of my games one-line descriptors that work in fuzzy ways are the norm (think HQ and OTE), so people didn't quite get that secrets are actually pretty specific crunch.

This plus the time it took to pick secrets means I really have to think about how I present them for the next group.

The extended conflict:, it didn't really have to be an extended conflict (yeah, it was player choice but I suggested it.) It tended to the abstract, though: mystic sleep inducement vs. staying awake doesn't exactly lend itself to lively description.

...yeah, the thing about the character not having any real leverage in the conflict was weird too., I don't think it actually went exactly by the rules. I only later realized that given a stricter reading the character should have remained awake till he either gave up or lost the contest through harm. Not sure what I think about that.

For the record, the unseen opponent was a hypercarnivorous fairy masquerading as young woman. Her goal was to induce sleep while pretending to sleep a dozen paces from Devor.


Some of them I managed to play towards pretty well, some not at all. Oops. Need to pay more attention to this next time, esp. since it will be five players instead of three. Hmm.

Summa summarum:

Not my best game ever by any stretch, but not bad either. The Vancian tone was there, and there were some great moments (none of which appear in this AP because I have no idea how to write them up -- and they aren't really interesting, just very Vancian.)


  • Were the players familiar with the rules (like character generation) beforehand? Or did they come in blind, with you teaching them all?

  • My better half knew some the rules, since I had talked about them a bit with her before.

    Other two players didn't know the rules at all beforehand -- I had provided a link to the webified rules, but had specifically noted that reading them was not required or expected.

    I explained the system structurally (pools, abilities, whatnot) and operationally (ability checks, conflicts, refresh scenes), but I didn't explain character creation -- that we just walked through while doing it.

    I should note that my complaint about "things stopping dead" when picking secrets is not a grumble about things taking too long, but about thinking and looking over lists instead of talking.
  • I tend to find that extended conflicts in TSOY need to have a face, a person to interact with. When one Firefly-esque game I was running went afoul of a secret communication roll failing, when the player brought down the pain, I made an NPC step up to make the conflict more lively. Give the issue a face, I find, and the description will flow.
  • edited September 2010
    Session #2: Discordant Sounds

    Five players, none of them present in the first session.

    Character Creation

    First we talked through the character concepts, iconic moments, etc. Then I explained the rules (this time with an A4 for each player to look at), and finally we made the characters mechanically. Not everyone had a character concept ready, but things went pretty smoothly.

    This took a bit less than two hours this time.

    Actual Play

    At one point the characters were robbing exploring an abandoned temple, and they find the massive stone idol they were looking for -- or rather the ancient medallion hanging on its neck.

    One of the characters, a warrior sage of sorts, approaches it, and extends his sword to pick up the medallion with it. The statue's eyes open. Coolly the sage goes ahead. [ability test] He gets the medallion over the head of the statue, but it catches on the stone crown worn by the statue. The statue draws stone swords, oops.

    [ First conflict. The idol wants to get rid of the thing reaching for the medallion, and the medallion back where it belongs. The sage wants to get the medallion. Statue wins. ]

    The sage tries to disengage the medallion, but the statue smashes down with its swords, knocking the sage's sword flying.

    The sage's servant steps in front of his disarmed master to defend, while another character is sneaking behind the statue. The statue does not attack, but rather stops to put the medallion properly back on. Fourth character recklessly jumps towards the statue in a mad rush the grab the medallion.

    [ Second conflict. Essentially same stakes but different character. Statue wins. ]

    The statue hits the reckless guy for some harm, knocking him down, and puts the medallion back on its neck. The guy who has snuck behind the statue sees there is a narrow tunnel that was hidden behind it.

    Fifth guy is also heading behind the statue. The moment the statue gets the medallion around its neck, the guy behind the statue unclasps the medallion and pulls it off! [ ability test ]

    The statue looks confused and starts to turn around. A guy with the amulet keeps behind its back as it turns -- turning with it. The others see the tunnel as well, and the fifth guy (who has the lantern, actually) dives in the tunnel just as the statue tries to pulp his head with a stone sword.

    As the statue's back is now to them, the guy with the amulet and the guy who was stunned in the middle of his rush grab the statue's legs as the sage tackles it from behind.

    [ Third conflict. They want the statue to go down and escape. The statue wants to remain standing to block their escape. Statue loses. ]

    The statue goes down and everyone runs to the tunnel across the its back. The tunnel is too small for the statue to follow.


    This was a very different game from #1 in all sorts of ways. There was much less character interaction and much more action. Energy at the table was good -- better then in #1, I think -- but there was less immersion and character choices. There was also much less rules confusion this time, probably due to the A4.

    I didn't manage to hit all the keys this time either. One of the characters is a clockwork building mad scientist of sorts, and I missed providing him with good opportunities totally.

    The scene described above was an interesting one. I didn't fully consider the rules implications of the setup beforehand. When I realized what was going on I wasn't at first how much to bundle into a single conflict, but in the end went with the flow -- it wasn't obvious to me in what directions the situation could have developed, so I didn't want to cover too much ground with one roll.

    If this had been HQ, I would have made it an extended contest in the first place, but in TSoY that choice isn't mine and carries a much greater risk. In HQ terms this was still rising action, not a climactic scene. I'm pretty happy with the way it turned out, but interested to hear how others would have handled it in TSoY.

    Picking/making up secrets slowed things down again somewhat, but not quite as badly. This time the character creation wasn't quite so "everyone does step X now", which may have helped too. Some people were thinking about using their advances when some were still picking abilities.

    There was surprisingly little talking-out-loud at the table when characters were being made, mostly because some of the characters had features people wanted to save for WTF! moments at the table later. Towards the end things opened up a bit, which was good.

    People commented -- not negatively, but not entirely positively either -- on how boardgamy things like the Gift of Dice felt.
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