Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne - Actual Play Discussion

edited January 19 in Story Games
Demiurge said:
I played Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne. We had an amazing surprise ending as Brother Armond actually replaced an innocent Elouise at the stake.

Lisa Padol said:
Interesting -- how did that work, mechanically?

At the endgame, Witch allows you to either read out the ritual phrases (involving dragging the Elouise to the stake and lighting the base on fire) or do something else. Brother Armond is the first to read a phrase, and he already took the train off the rails from the get-go.

It was pretty interesting, because Thorne believed that he was infected by the Plague and would surely die unless someone was burned. Thorne would not have accepted it if Armond had simply refused to burn Elouise. But by offering to burn himself, Armond saved Elouise and placated Thorne.

Then we read out the rest of the ritual phrases, but with Armond burning instead of Elouise.

It gave me goosebumps.

--Jonathan

Comments

  • This was an interesting development. I didn't find it *quite* as natural and compelling as you did, I think. (Mostly because I doubt the other people involved - the background NPCs, society at large, the monastery, and so forth - would simply accept a cleric burning at the stake instead of the Witch: that wasn't terribly believable to me, and, in addition, it short-circuited the moral dilemma at the heart of the game. Kind of a "cop out", on a certain level.)

    I'm nitpicking a bit, though, because the game was interesting and powerful, and the self-sacrifice really suited the character nicely: Brother Armond had established himself as a character obsessed with the aura of a fake martyr (one of my favourite details in this game was him marking himself with the Stigmata, out of sight of the others!).

    It also made sense for Thorne (my character), who took the position that the Witch was innocent, but, like Christ, she must suffer and be sacrificed: her innocence was what made the burning and the sacrifice meaningful, in other words. (Part of the premise - I don't remember if it was in the scenario, or just something we made up in our playthrough - was that there had already been a multitude of such witch-burnings, but, clearly, none of them had rescued us from the Plague. Therefore, my Thorne concluded, sacrificing a real Witch wouldn't do the trick... so, perhaps, burning a truly innocent soul would!)

    That was an interesting position for me to take, because the alternative would have been that all the other burned witches had been innocent: a pretty dark position for the character!

    Once that was in place, Thorne had to accept Armond's self-sacrifice, because he had seen him shine with divine light and was convinced he was a truly innocent himself. Armond had fooled him - in part, intentionally (the fake stigmata) and in part by accident (the divine light was real; Thorne merely misinterpreted what it was and decided it had to do with Armond). And so the ending was written.

    I was a bit disappointed that Ham wasn't part of the proceedings - perhaps he would have had an interesting dissenting (or morally dissenting) view on the situation! - but his absence was certainly "in-character".

    There's a lot of theme to explore in that ending. I wouldn't say our game was 100% smooth in execution, but the resulting story has some very real depth. Quite satisfying!

    I hope that @David_Berg and @Jeff_B_Slater / @Jeff_Slater will chime in with their thoughts on this, as well! Thanks for posting that, Jon. :)
  • edited January 23
    I think it was an interesting session for sure. Everyone’s characters were very interesting. I thought that Brother Armond was a character with a lot of cognitive dissonance. He believed in being a good person but had fallen short to the point that, in order to save himself, he had let many of those he mentored die in the plague, all the while suspecting that their contact with the infected were the reason for them contracting it. He also had been responsible for the deaths of many witches he had burned at the stake even though he had his doubts as to whether they were legitimately witches. He enjoyed his authority and the fact that others viewed him as a saint but at the same time he was deeply troubled by the evil he had done and would inflict stigma and penance on himself regularly.

    In the end he was actually able to use his authority and the sanctimonious other people viewed him as having in order to argue that the Witch, Elouise, was touched by God and a holy vessel of the Spirit. Who would question such a devout man, a man of miracles, who had never been willing to suffer a Witch in the past. Armond also used his authority to vouch for Throne’s revelation that the innocent must be sacrificed to show the city’s obedience to God; afterall, many witchs had already been burn yet the plague had remained.

    I think Armond, because of the evidence of Elouise’s divine miracle, and the cowardliness he had shown towards the devil worshipping Jesuits, could no longer sustain his cognitive dissonance about the things he’d done and his phyche dissolved. I see his replacement of Elouise and willingness to burn at the stake as a final act of penance of a man who truly despised what he had become and a final attempt to do something right before being consigned to Hell Fire.

    I absolutely loved the miracle of divine light that came from the Witch and especially how Ham and Throne responded to it. I love the fact that even though Armond was a pathetic man in many ways, Throne and Ham had misinterpreted things that happened as being his holy miracles. I also loved Jon’s character Ham, how superstitious and fearful he was and how Jon made him react to things after introducing the fortune teller scene. I love that he had to try his best not to pluck the Witch’s eye out, do to his superstition, etc. It was a pretty cool story, but I can definitely see what Paul is saying about us never making the decision whether or not to sacrifice Elouise, at least in the traditional sense.

  • Oh, that's interesting, Jeff!

    So Armond decided to offer himself in Elouise's stead so as to undo his own sins and cognitive dissonance? I got that from our game, but hadn't really thought of it in these terms:

    By sacrificing himself in her stead, Armond finally accomplished, by deed, the saintliness he had pretended to his whole life. While he saw himself as a sinner and a fraud, those who traveled with him saw him as a saint.

    Your "fake stigmata", and the backstory about Armond sending all those people to contract the Plague and die... those were some of my favourite parts of the game!
  • Fascinating. Thank you. (Just got back from Arisia, catching up.)
  • It's really great to see some in-depth post-game discussion between people who played together -- different perspectives from the table, etc. There used to be a lot more back in the day, when more folks on story-games.com knew each other and played together.
  • edited January 22
    I doubt the other people involved - the background NPCs, society at large, the monastery, and so forth - would simply accept a cleric burning at the stake instead of the Witch: that wasn't terribly believable to me
    That was a much bigger issue the first time I played Witch. That time, the way Lindisfarne was narrated, there were a ton of people there, all planning to burn the witch. I didn't feel like the PCs deciding to free her would work; logically, we'd all just be swarmed and die together. I was playing Thorne, and when I saw the masses waiting, I tried to kill the other PCs and set the witch free before we got into the lion's den. And the facilitator was like, "No, you can't do that now, wait for Absolution." And then in Absolution we just hand-waved how 1 or 2 dudes could overcome a veritable army.

    My takeaway from that was that what matters is that the characters do in fact have the opportunity to make a meaningful choice during Absolution. So Lindisfarne should be narrated accordingly (e.g. not with tons of people there who can easily resist whatever the PCs decide).

    As for society at large, they can't stop you in the moment, so you can still burn a monk if that's your decision.

    How that works out for you is largely up to you in your epilogue. You could easily have said, "No one accepted the sacrifice of Armond in Elouise's stead, and the church came for Thorne's head. Fortunately, his conscience finally at ease, he managed to escape to France," or something like that to make it all believable.
    in addition, it short-circuited the moral dilemma at the heart of the game. Kind of a "cop out", on a certain level.
    Huh? The decision was there to be made -- burn her or don't -- and each PC made it. Their unusual reasons for their decisions don't render it a cop out. Thorne's biggest decision was accepting Armond's authority and statement that it was correct to burn him and let her go. Thorne didn't have to accept that. Thorne could have skewered Armond (or otherwise gotten him out of the way) and taken Elouise to the pyre if he wanted to. But he didn't.
    I wouldn't say our game was 100% smooth in execution
    We had one huge glitch, where your scene framing authority conflicted with Jon's character agency. I knew that would be a problem, so I advised you to let him frame the scene. When we finally all arrived at that solution, everything was fine. :) (That's a key technique I'd add to any Witch play advice.)

    Aside from that, I thought it was fairly smooth. I do remember you expressing some confusion about what your options were in the combat scene, but your choices all worked out fine. Happy to revisit if you'd like, though!
  • First, since people seem to be enjoying the discussion, I'm going to quote my answer about Sir Thorne and how I envisaged him from the other thread. Then I'll get to your other questions!
    It's really great to see some in-depth post-game discussion between people who played together -- different perspectives from the table, etc. There used to be a lot more back in the day, when more folks on story-games.com knew each other and played together.
    Good observation, Ben. I also miss the vibrant "actual play" culture which has died down somewhat, so it's really great that @Demiurge started this thread.

    Ok:

    In the other thread, Dave asks me to describe my approach to Sir Thorne, and when I made a decision for him vis-a-vis the Witch. Here is my answer:
    I came up with the idea that he was (or believed he was) infected by the Plague very early on. You'll recall him lifting up and kissing a small child suffering of the Plague on our first scene.

    I wasn't yet sure whether he already knew about it, or whether that moment would just foreshadow him getting sick later.

    I also decided that he must believe in the IDEA that burning a witch could redeem and save us all (or at least himself), so that he had a purpose to be on the journey in the first place.

    Beyond that, I wanted to stay open to exploring his feelings for the Witch as the game went along. There were scenes where I felt he was sympathetic to the witch (remember, I'd established that he thought he might be her illegitimate father!), and other scenes where he thought burning her was worth it.

    I also established in my mind (via those flashbacks/vignettes) that Thorne had been traumatized by being forced to carry out immoral orders during the Crusades, so he wouldn't do anything just because someone ordered him to.

    That gave me a character who had a variety of possible motivations and reasons to either go along with the burning or to go turn against it.

    I also realized after a handful of scenes that Thorne was searching for a moral authority, which he found in Brother Armond.

    I very deliberately didn't actually commit to a decision until the final scene, because that seemed to me like the most interesting way to play the game - if the whole point was to make this decision, then making it upfront would be undercutting the purpose of the game. (Like deciding what bets you're going to make before you even meet your Poker opponent or see your cards.)

    However - and I guess this is the important part here - I very deliberately established a character for myself who wouldn't be, say, automatically opposed to the idea of witchery and human sacrifice from the get-go. If that was Thorne, his most rational course of action would be to let her out of the cage at the first possible opportunity and flee into the countryside with her, running from the guards or fleeing the country.

    No, he had to be the kind of character who had the potential to believe in this whole thing, or turn against it, depending on how things played out. That, to me, was the whole point of playing. I would give the character a starting position and then vicariously experience his final decision, depending on how the journey shaped his feelings about the whole situation.

    But he WAS committed to taking the Witch to Lindisfarne. In my mind he saw that as a way to repay the moral debt of being a deserter in the Crusades - carrying out this task, at whatever cost, was his way of redeeming himself and his honour and he would not flinch from it.
  • Dave,

    Now to answer your earlier post! I think you touch on three topics.

    1. First, how do the people of Lindisfarne affect our decision at the end of the game? Is failing to burn the Witch plausible?

    That's really interesting about your other experience playing the game, and I agree that it seems like an unfair or unnecessary source of pressure for the players and their characters. This should probably be an important point to consider for the game text and/or people playing the game.

    I don't know if you'll recall, but I kept asking, when we were setting up the game, whether we *as characters* had the moral authority to make the decision about her burning. I was a bit surprised that no one understood the purpose of my question or engaged with it.

    Playing this out as "we are servants ordered to do this thing" is a very different experience from "we are tasked with bringing this witch to Lindisfarne and there deciding her fate".

    My instinct is very much to narrate the people of Lindisfarne as folks who are prepared to cede moral authority to the PCs when they arrive; to do otherwise is also interesting (in a "Nuremberg Trial" kind of way) but seems to undercut player agency.

    It's an interesting conundrum!

    Your stated solution to deal with this in the epilogue did not work for me, however. In the first place, because the epilogues are meant to deal with the fates of the individual, and making a statement like that means you're effectively hogging the issue for yourself - what if the players thought it was the other way around?

    I could see forming a procedure to do so together, as a group, as part of the epilogues (perhaps by vote, by reading out some text you're allowed to change, like the Absolution, or by telling each player to describe the reaction of the people their character values or cares about, so each player's answer can be different without contradicting each other).

    Second, in our game someone had already narrated her fate and the people's reaction within the scene - the people looked satisfied, the witch wandered into the crowd and wasn't seen again, something like that.

    2. Was there a cop-out in our decision to burn Armond, or not?

    I can see your point here. I'm not sure; I can see strengths to approaching the game either way. Sticking to the strict dilemma seems like more of a hard-hitting way to play, which appeals to me. On the other hand, you're right that both characters made a choice, which is the point of the game, and thereby perhaps fulfilled their purpose.

    For my part, at that point Thorne was so strongly convinced of her innocence *and* of Armond's purity and spiritual authority that going against that would have been entirely out of character, in my mind. He could only play along - it was, more or less, exactly what he wanted.

    In any case, as a player, I did feel a slight disappointment at how we "dodged the bullet" a little, and I wanted to note that feeling here.

    3. Problems in execution.

    I think we faced two challenges during the game. One was when I had to frame a scene and Ham had run off, as you point out.

    This was a communication problem, I'd say. I couldn't figure whether Jon (Ham's player) was trying to remove his character from the game altogether or whether he just needed a better fictional rationale for it to be plausible. You landed on an excellent solution by suggesting Jon tell us what the circumstances were - much more efficient than my attempt to talk it out with Jon! And it seemed to make everyone happy.

    If Jon comes back to this thread, I'd love to hear about this from his perspective. After all, Ham ran off again shortly thereafter! Does that mean he was unhappy with the effective failure of the first attempt?

    (From my perspective, I couldn't tell what he wanted until Ham ran off again a second time: having him gone twice made it very clear what the player wanted! :) )

    The other was the terrifying scene of the cultists attacking in the night. It was a really cool scene, and one of the most memorable parts of the game. I'm glad it happened.

    However, the nature of the freeform resolution made it really hard for me to play. I couldn't tell what my options were or what I was "allowed" to do. My impression is that you, as the scene framer, were quite committed to the scene playing out a certain way, so I ended up treating the whole situation like a PC in a railroad: basically, act passive enough that you can participate in the scene and react to it, but don't try to actually affect the outcome of the plot/scene.

    Because of that, as much as I enjoyed the scene as an audience member, I didn't enjoy it as a player. It was clear that my attempts to actually do anything would be met with overwhelming force, so I eventually more or less wrote my character out of the scene and enjoyed it as an audience member, instead. But, until I decided to do so, it wasn't much fun. (This has been my experience in a lot of strongly GMed freeform gaming, by the way, which is one reason I often don't enjoy that very much.)
  • edited January 23
    I kept asking, when we were setting up the game, whether we *as characters* had the moral authority to make the decision about her burning.
    Yeah. I responded that, in the fiction, the characters have simply been assigned a task, but the game itself gives them the ability to determine the witch's fate.

    Perhaps things would be simpler if Lindisfarne were empty, and it were just up to the characters to choose and enact their decision.
    the epilogues are meant to deal with the fates of the individual, and making a statement like that means you're effectively hogging the issue for yourself - what if the players thought it was the other way around?
    True. If "yes, and" is the logic of a game with distributed GMing, that probably ought to be made explicit. I think our group's implicit protocol was something like, "yes, and... unless someone really objects".

    That's another thing perhaps the game text ought to address. (Or maybe it did and we missed it?)
    someone had already narrated her fate and the people's reaction within the scene - the people looked satisfied, the witch wandered into the crowd and wasn't seen again, something like that.
    If you found that implausible in the moment, I imagine that whoever was narrating would have welcomed your input for how to make it more plausible.

    I can't remember exactly how it was narrated, but I found it plausible, and I can be pretty stringent on that front.

    Some key phrases from freeform games like Archipelago -- "show me more" or "try another way" -- might deserve a home here.
    Thorne was so strongly convinced of her innocence *and* of Armond's purity and spiritual authority that going against that would have been entirely out of character, in my mind. He could only play along - it was, more or less, exactly what he wanted.

    In any case, as a player, I did feel a slight disappointment at how we "dodged the bullet" a little, and I wanted to note that feeling here.
    Ah! Okay, now I get it. We didn't dodge a bullet -- Thorne dodged a bullet.

    ...but only at the very end.

    Thorne's obvious/easy choice came after his extremely interesting choice to burn someone innocent and Armond's extremely interesting choice to be that someone.

    I see zero dodge/cop-out there.

    I also don't see any room for improvement. I think it would be crazy to try to ensure that the last choice everyone makes is their biggest one. I think that's 100% at odds with emergent narrative.
    Ham ran off again shortly thereafter! Does that mean he was unhappy with the effective failure of the first attempt?
    I think Jon was just playing through what Ham would do and letting the outcome emerge. If the next person to frame a scene had framed it with some content that would have given Ham a reason to stick around, Ham would have stuck around. *shrug*
    I couldn't tell what my options were or what I was "allowed" to do. My impression is that you, as the scene framer, were quite committed to the scene playing out a certain way, so I ended up treating the whole situation like a PC in a railroad: basically, act passive enough that you can participate in the scene and react to it, but don't try to actually affect the outcome of the plot/scene.
    Yeah, I was riffing off the scene prompt on the witch character sheet that says something like "frame a situation that you then save them from". I wasn't sure how to make that matter just by jumping into the middle -- if I say, "Okay, the next night, you've been surrounded by cultists, there's no chance to fight them off, they demand the witch, and then suddenly the witch emits this blinding light," then everyone's just like, "Whuhhhh okayyyyyy..." There needed to be some scene first. Plus I was really curious to see if anyone would flat-out flee, or make explicit an intention to die defending her. But yeah, I had no interest in putting "fight them off" on the table.

    I have no idea why you tried to parse "what's Paul allowed to do", though. The fictional situation gave Thorne no good options, and if he just picks the one that seems least worst, then we're all good. At the time, I thought that's what had happened -- Thorne was overwhelmed, and the best he could do was take cover from the archers and wait to see how things developed.

    You had no control over fighting off the cultists, but that's not what's at stake in the scene, IMO. What's at stake is how the characters handle the situations which arise, and what that says about them. And you had complete control over that. I'm sorry to hear that your decisions for Thorne weren't fun to make, but I hope you can take solace in the fact that the rest of us enjoyed seeing the side of him that resulted.
  • Hi all,

    To understand what Ham did you need to understand his backstory. The Ham that met the procession in London was not really Ham. He was a man named Brockton, who had fled London some time ago (due to owing money to criminals) and and had lived as a bandit/forager in the Hangman's Wood since. When the real Ham went south along the road from Lindisfarne he was captured and murdered by the abbey of ex-Franciscan Satanists (they became Satanists to avoid the Plague). They murdered Ham because he refused to lead the Witch to them. The Satanists found and captured Brockton, and figured he'd make a more pliable replacement for Ham. They sent Brockton to London to lead the procession to them, and promised to let him live in the woods unmolested afterward.

    Brockton (now pretending to be Ham) met the procession and led them to the Wood. The trip through the Wood took days longer than expected, with "Ham" looking really nervous the whole time (Dave narrated this, and it helped inspire my full backstory!). Brockton was trying to keep the party in the woods while he found wherever the Satanists were. When the Satanists finally found the procession, while everyone else was shocked, Brockton was expecting them and was not taken by surprise. He dove for the bushes immediately, not trusting his former captors to necessarily keep their word. He figured he'd try to hide from them in the Wood, and if they ever caught him again they'd probably be on friendlier terms anyway since he had done them a favour.

    Brockton had not expected to witness a Miracle. When the Satanists attacked the Witch, there was a bright flash of light. Most of the Satanists ran away, and the two holding down Elouise (the Witch) went catatonic, babbling incoherently. Brockton, fearing the Satanists might reveal him, quickly slit their throats. He tried to run for it, but Sir Thorne pinned him down.

    Now under watch by Sir Thorne (who he was extremely afraid of), Brockton felt compelled to continue on to Lindisfarne, even though he had no idea how to get there. He had never been further north than Clifftop Pass. Brockton desperately tried to find a way to escape the party, since he knew for sure that once they arrived to Lindisfarne the monks would denounce him and he would meet his doom.

    Brockton's chance came when (thanks to a nice narration from Dave again), the bridge at Clifftop Pass failed, stranding him with Elouise on one side, and Thorne and Armond on the other. The two parties agreed to move west until they could meet again at the next bridge. About halfway along, though, Brockton freed Elouise and fled back east. He figured he could climb down the escarpment and leg it back to the Hangman's Wood long before Thorne would even realize "Ham" was missing.

    (This is where we had our only major glitch in the flow of the game. Paul kept wanting to narrate Thorne catching up to Brockton, but Brockton knew the land much better and had come up with a pretty clever scheme to get away. By the time Thorne knew something was wrong, Brockton would already have been back in the Wood. I flatly refused to allow it, although at the time I think I explained my reasoning less eloquently than I did just now in writing. Dave suggested that I should frame a scene showing how Thorne could catch Brockton, and I framed the only thing I thought could work.)

    Unfortunately, Brockton's plan did not go as planned. He broke an arm climbing down the extremely treacherous escarpment, and Thorne found him there, helpless. Brockton invented a story about the Witch having attacked him and thrown him down. Thorne grew very suspicious of Brockton, and started keeping a closer eye on him.

    The trip further north led them to a small town by nightfall. It took a while to get there because Brockton kept making wrong turns (he really had never been there before, but was trying to pretend he knew where he was going). Brockton managed to drug Thorne's alcohol, and snuck out of the inn and was finally free of the procession and its ghastly-now-holy Witch.

    So that's what happened from "Ham"'s perspective! I hope that clarifies why he wasn't at Lindisfarne. In retrospective, if Thorne had managed to drag Brockton there it might have created an interesting scene.

    --Jonathan
  • edited January 28
    Jon,

    Man, I love the thought you give to the characters and settings in the games we've been playing. Your background detail adds so much to our games! Thanks. I really enjoyed reading that little 'exposé' on Ham's Brockton's character. :)

    However, what I'm wondering about has fairly little to do with Ham (whose motives are now very clear, and had been mostly revealed/clarified during our epilogues), and everything to do with those choices from your perspective, as Jon (the player). What was that like for you, and did Dave and I understand your motives correctly?

    Also, do you feel that the way we addressed Ham's departure from the group was the right way to handle it? Over in the other thread I just speculated briefly that we might have failed a little. By my measure, anyway, the second scene (with Ham back on board and at the inn) didn't add much to the story. (At least in the sense that, were this a film we were editing, it would be fairly justifiable to say that, hey, this little sideplot about Ham breaking his arm, being found, dragged to town, and then escaping in the middle of the night is a waste of screentime and we should just cut it from the final picture.)

    I think we handled our social disagreement well (Dave stepped in and gave you the reins, which was a great "fix" - although if he hadn't, the next thing I was going to ask was whether you, as a player, wanted Ham out of the story or just needed a more plausible set of circumstances, which would also have done the job, I think), but I wonder how you feel about the resulting story and scenes.
  • edited January 28
    Now to respond to Dave, above:
    I kept asking, when we were setting up the game, whether we *as characters* had the moral authority to make the decision about her burning.
    Yeah. I responded that, in the fiction, the characters have simply been assigned a task, but the game itself gives them the ability to determine the witch's fate.
    To me, that wasn't a sufficient answer. That's the structure of the game, sure; but what is the fictional reality we're dealing with? (I didn't push harder on it because no one else seemed concerned, and I trusted that you, having played before, were saying so for a reason I just wasn't aware of yet.)

    I think the snag we hit was that we hadn't established at all what was at stake in the final Absolution. Were we expected to carry out this task, no matter what? Did we face consequences if we didn't (e.g. being thrown in jail)? Or did the people see us as having the moral authority to cast judgement and set her free, if we chose to do so?

    There's a big difference between "you are expected to judge the ultimate fate of the Witch" and "will you sacrifice your own well-being to prevent a horrible injustice, at the last moment?", and I couldn't tell which was taking place in our game.

    I do see this as a slight flaw in the game text (although it's also possible I just missed something, too). I think it's a really important distinction. If it's intended to be up to the group, that's fine, too, but it should still be flagged, in my opinion - either at the beginning of the game, or as part of the scene framing questions for our arrival in Lindisfarne. (e.g. You could ask the person framing the scene to describe the people there and their apparent attitude towards the arrival of the party and the Witch. What do they expect to happen? Are they excited, sad, angry?)

    It's a little odd that the people on the journey don't seem like the kinds of people who would have the legal authority to burn the witch, but the game frames the burning as something they perform together (which is obviously more interesting to play out that way).

    I think there's a reason that Dogs in the Vineyard very squarely and clearly puts the authority in the hands of the Dogs, specifically to avoid this kind of confusion or lack of clarity. You are in charge here, and whatever you choose is the law of the land. That would probably serve Witch well, too. (Although perhaps, rather, the scenario is written to be historically accurate, and this tension/lack of clarity existed in medieval England! ...in which I'd love to hear or read more about that - that would be quite fascinating!)

    Perhaps things would be simpler if Lindisfarne were empty, and it were just up to the characters to choose and enact their decision.
    That's a good example of a perfect solution! I really like that.

    In fact, that's what I expected, and was rather thrown when I saw that Lindisfarne wasn't a distant and hard-to-reach "mountain-top", a la Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, but a place full of people.

    If I play this again, I will probably lean strongly in this direction.

    To me, having the characters all play a role in the burning of the Witch makes most sense if they are the only people present, as opposed to some kind of executioner or legal authority (or at least someone who has done this before, to all the other witches, and therefore knows what exactly what to do).
    someone had already narrated her fate and the people's reaction within the scene - the people looked satisfied, the witch wandered into the crowd and wasn't seen again, something like that.
    If you found that implausible in the moment, I imagine that whoever was narrating would have welcomed your input for how to make it more plausible.

    I can't remember exactly how it was narrated, but I found it plausible, and I can be pretty stringent on that front.
    Different tastes, I suppose! In my imagination, if the people think England are suffering and the Plague is going to kill us all unless we burn this woman, who is the cause of it all... well, I find it hard to imagine that those people would suddenly accept a replacement at the last minute. It's kind of like the "build that wall!" Trump supporters in the U.S. - this kind of idea binds them together, true or not, and takes over the collective psyche. Accepting something else in its place would require some real change of heart, in a way that goes beyond a reasonable explanation. Not only are you not getting what you were promised, but accepting it means going against the myth you've also spun about the purpose of this task and the idea which brings you together as people. Rather, I would expect mob rule to take over.
    Some key phrases from freeform games like Archipelago -- "show me more" or "try another way" -- might deserve a home here.
    Excellent idea!

    I didn't push it at the time because everyone else seemed happy with it, and we were keen to wrap up (I believe it was late at night). My lack of satisfaction with a minor point didn't seem worth bothering the whole group over.

    Those phrases seem like they would be handy pretty much anytime! I've never actually played Archipelago, so I haven't seen them in practice, but this is a perfect example of why they might be some really well-calibrated gaming technology. :)
    Ah! Okay, now I get it. We didn't dodge a bullet -- Thorne dodged a bullet.

    [...]

    I see zero dodge/cop-out there.

    I also don't see any room for improvement.
    Hmmm! Well... no.

    I did feel that we dodged a bullet, not Thorne.

    First, the characters dodged a bullet (the implied pressure of society/the King/the Church/the mob which drives things like witch burnings in the first place), and we managed to avoid that issue altogether. I felt that there should have been some repercussions. (Although, as you point out, we should probably have handled that in our epilogues. I was actually considering that, until the game's rules told us the epilogues should be positive/happy, which threw me for a loop a little!) The characters avoided this issue altogether, and that's how I feel they were "let off the hook".

    Second, the players dodged a bullet by finding a third path out of the witch-burning dilemma. It was a powerful one (someone did burn, after all!), but still a minor cop-out, in my opinion, since we managed to satisfy the concept of the sacrificial burning without actually, you know, killing an innocent young woman. I feel that tension is at the heart of the game, and our choice short-circuited it.

    Finally, one of the characters dodged a bullet by not even being involved (Ham). Not as big a deal, granted, but part of the picture for me. This game sold me on this difficult moral dilemma we all have to struggle with, but, in the end, I feel like, in some ways, we slipped out of it altogether.

    Having said that, the game went really well, it was a poignant moment, Armond's sacrifice is still a major deal (it's still a person burning to death!), and I'm also not sure we could have done better. So maybe you're right when you say there's not room for improvement!

    As important as this gripe may sound because of the weighty subject matter, it was a very minor gripe for me as far as enjoying the game is concerned. I think it was one of our most successful games, and the ending was a big part of that.
  • edited January 28
    Finally, the issue of the "heretics attack" scene. I covered a lot of this in the other thread, so I'll just address the stuff I didn't talk about there in this response:

    Yeah, I was riffing off the scene prompt on the witch character sheet that says something like "frame a situation that you then save them from". I wasn't sure how to make that matter just by jumping into the middle -- if I say, "Okay, the next night, you've been surrounded by cultists, there's no chance to fight them off, they demand the witch, and then suddenly the witch emits this blinding light," then everyone's just like, "Whuhhhh okayyyyyy..." There needed to be some scene first. Plus I was really curious to see if anyone would flat-out flee, or make explicit an intention to die defending her. But yeah, I had no interest in putting "fight them off" on the table.

    I have no idea why you tried to parse "what's Paul allowed to do", though. The fictional situation gave Thorne no good options, and if he just picks the one that seems least worst, then we're all good. At the time, I thought that's what had happened -- Thorne was overwhelmed, and the best he could do was take cover from the archers and wait to see how things developed.

    You had no control over fighting off the cultists, but that's not what's at stake in the scene, IMO. What's at stake is how the characters handle the situations which arise, and what that says about them. And you had complete control over that. I'm sorry to hear that your decisions for Thorne weren't fun to make, but I hope you can take solace in the fact that the rest of us enjoyed seeing the side of him that resulted.
    So, first of all, talking about this has been hard to "get right", since my description of how uncomfortable it felt really undercuts how much I enjoyed the scene. It was, for me, the most memorable scene in the game, and definitely the high point of the story. If this was a movie and there was to be a trailer made... this scene (and that flash of light would be the final image before a cut to black and "coming to theatres near you on June 17..." would appear on the screen. That would be very cool.

    I don't want that point to get lost as I now continue to explain how and why it was uncomfortable for me. :)

    Again, I've covered most of that in the other thread. Let me see if the discussion here needs anything else to be said. Hmmm...

    First of all, of course you are right about presenting the scene. Doing it straight out of scene framing would have left us with nothing to do and really been much less effective. The tension and the fear present in the scene was a big part of its success.

    However, how to deliver this well? It seems to me that it's the classic "railroader's challenge": one player intends to deliver a specific experience to the other players, and we want that happen. What does that leave for the other players to do, then? It's the classic problem/dilemma probably anyone who's ever played a traditional RPG has run into.

    Is this a scene where something crazy happens and the players' job is simply to portray their ongoing horror and fear (like Call of Cthulhu)? Or a scene where the GM (effectively; I know it's a GMless game, of course, for anyone reading along) wants to fool the players into feeling like they have open-ended choice, but then hit them with their reveal anyway? Or something else altogether? Is it supposed to be built collaboratively, and not as a surprise? (That would spoil it a little, at least for me.)

    I am highly surprised that this prompt was actually in the text; it seems to me that following this prompt basically instructs the scene framer to create a railroaded scene of this sort. It's a really powerful story beat and idea, so I'm glad it's there, but putting it into practice seems pretty challenging to me. I'd bet that 95% of people attempting to frame a scene based on that prompt would create a scene that's not open-ended at all. Huh! Interesting.

    The reason I had trouble with it as a player was because it was pretty jarring to go from freeform, collaborative improv roleplaying (the way we had played the whole game up until then) to something that felt like a heavy GMed scene where I was intended to simply "play my character", and within tight constraints (in this case, "you can't defeat or avoid the heretics", but without that being stated outright - it was for us to discover, instead!). That made it really hard for me to figure out what kind of input I was supposed to contribute to the game. In any other scene, it seemed that inventing a brand new NPC or narrating something new about our circumstances or abilities would have been entirely appropriate; but here that didn't seem like the way we were playing anymore (and I eagerly jumped into that, but, once there, wasn't sure what to do).

    The power of the scene is making me reconsider my rather harsh "anti-railroading" stance; it was effective enough that right now I'm curious to explore ways to do this again, just better or with more clarity. How to do so is a bit of a conundrum, of course!
  • edited January 29
    The power of the scene is making me reconsider my rather harsh "anti-railroading" stance; it was effective enough that right now I'm curious to explore ways to do this again, just better or with more clarity. How to do so is a bit of a conundrum, of course!
    In past games of Fudge, as GM I've given the players a Fudge Point whenever I railroaded them. E.g. in a light-hearted Superhero type game, if I wanted to capture the PCs and put them in a fiendish trap, rather than play it out interactively I'd just describe them getting captured and give them 1 FP each. The FP could be used to easily escape the trap, or they could do something clever and get out for free, then keep the FP for later. This seemed to work well. I would also try to keep these kinds of heavy-handed scenes to a strict minimum.

    That's not really a complete answer, but that's how I would handle it.

    I get the impression that in Witch, Dave didn't really have complete scene control. If you'd really wanted to you could have narrated a miracle of your own, or narrated Sir Thorne slaying all the unbelievers (which is really not that unrealistic, given how much combat training knights had vs peasants or your average monk). If Dave had objected it would have forced him to reveal what he wanted for the scene anyway, during negotiation.
    Also, do you feel that the way we addressed Ham's departure from the group was the right way to handle it?
    I was playing my character, I wasn't really thinking about how it might affect the overall story. You're right that the story would probably have been more interesting if Brockton had failed to escape at the Inn, had been dragged kicking and screaming all the way to Lindisfarne, and then revealed to be an imposter.
    Second, the players dodged a bullet by finding a third path out of the witch-burning dilemma. It was a powerful one (someone did burn, after all!), but still a minor cop-out, in my opinion, since we managed to satisfy the concept of the sacrificial burning without actually, you know, killing an innocent young woman. I feel that tension is at the heart of the game, and our choice short-circuited it.
    I think we made our choice: don't burn the witch.

    One of the interesting things about A Song of Ice and Fire is that George R. R. Martin made obvious something that I'd never really thought of. In a world where information transmission is extremely limited, a Lord in his manor can do pretty much as he pleases, and the consequences might take a long time to catch up with him, if ever. If the King's own seneschal comes by, and the Lord decides to torture him for days and put him in a cage on the castle wall to starve to death and be eaten by crows, who's to stop him? Perhaps the King will bring an army 8 months later in response, or the King will never find out what happened to his senschal. If the Lord makes even a minor effort to hide what he's done, then the latter is far more likely.

    I think in Witch it's much the same. The procession has been tasked with bringing the Witch to Lindisfarne and burning her. But once they're there, who's to stop them from doing something else? A bunch of monks and peasants are not going to stop a knight from doing as he pleases (an armed and armoured knight could probably beat 20 peasants in a fight). If the Knight refuses to burn the witch, perhaps there will be consequences, or perhaps not. Will anyone in London find out what happened? Or will they get 10 different versions of events? In fact, even if they do burn her, they could all be put to death soon after because the Prince of Wales heard they hadn't done it and had profaned against the King. I think it's hard for us today, in an age of photo evidence and instant communication, to understand just how damn random it was back then. Truth was whatever the local representative of the Church and King said it was.
  • edited January 30
    There is a certain irony that everything lined up the way it did. Armond’s actions towards the end were largely a result of him playing off and reacting to Throne. Armond probably wouldn’t have made the choices he did if Throne wasn’t convinced that an innocent must die and if it didn’t fit so well with Armond’s character arc and psychological motivations—so, ironically, me basing Armond's final actions on Throne ended up fulfilling Throne’s and Armond’s desires, which ended up leaving Paul feeling let down because he wasn’t able to face the strong moral dilemma at the end that he was naturally expecting.

    I’m wondering what moral dilemma Throne would have experienced if Armond hadn’t asked to be burned in Elouise’s place? It seems that Throne was convinced of Elouise’s need to be burned so that decision would take a lot to overcome. There was the possibility of Elouise being Throne’s daughter; but, although a strong motivation at first glance, I feel like that had not been developed sufficiently to base the drama on, at least not solely. Armond arguing for Elouise’s innocence would definitely have been a dramatic possibility, and the conflict for Throne would be deciding whether or not to obey Armond’s authority or to go with Throne’s own revelation and new found spiritual conviction? That angle—maybe along with the addition of possible paternity?—would have made for fertile narrative ground and would have been interesting to explore. Did you have anything particular in mind, Paul?

    The way the story lined up was kind of a perfect storm, in which Throne and Armond’s motivations, desires and beliefs could be fulfilled in a dramatic fashion (at least, on the story level); but which, I see in retrospect, didn’t leave Throne with much room for a difficult choice. I’m used to playing GMless games where the ultimate goal is to tell a good story, and I think that I didn’t realize that Throne wasn’t facing a moral dilemma, and that that was an important aspect of the game. Perhaps, I was thinking that Armond choosing to burn himself would create more conflict within Throne than it did, but it is much more likely that I simply got caught up in the moment and wasn’t thinking about whether or not Throne would be presented with a moral dilemma.

    If it’s of interest to anyone, here’s the way I saw the confluence of Throne’s and Armonds motivations and desires coming together. Throne was able to have an innocent sacrificed and he was able to show deference towards Armond’s precived holiness and authority while also being and feeling spiritually validated and esteemed for having a personal revelation. Throne always looked to Armond for spiritual insight because he felt benieth him and unsure and unable to properly understand spiritual matters. Towards the later part of the story, Armond had dismissed, criticized, then walked away from Throne for not intuiting what God wanted, and it was painful to Throne because he felt that he wasn’t Holy or able to understand God’s will and that that was the reason he looked towards Armond for answers and guidance. By the time he expressed this Armond had already walked away and left him speaking to no one. Armond, by being sacrificed, became a vessel for Throne’s vision which was the ultimate vindication and gave legitimacy to Throne experience of God and becoming spirituality assured. Also, I think that Throne was healed of the plague at the end, if I remember correctly, and possibly the plague was healed as a whole?

    As I saw it, Throne’s motives, desires and beliefs also fit perfectly with the needs and story arc of Armond. Armond’s cognitive dissonance had overwhelmed him to the point of near madness. He had to face the horrible person he was and there was no way to deny that Elouise was God’s messenger, given her miracle, etc. He couldn’t delude himself this time and this was his most poignant opportunity for some form absolution.

    In regards the believability of the last scene, I can understand the difficulty of believing the crowd would go along with Armond’s decision. Here was the rationale for the crowds decision, as I saw it, (maybe it will make it a little easier to swallow): Armond had established that he was very high in the church, and had very high connections even up to the Pope. He was likely the main authority present and was held in very high esteem. Armond had already burned nine witches, so it’s not like Armond was viewed as someone who would suffer a witch, or would be mislead into letting a witch go free. In addition, burning all those witches hadn’t worked to stop the plague—something like 2 out of 3 people died in the plague—and the people would be absolutely desperate to try any new measure an authority presented. Additionally, both Armond and Throne testified to miracles and visions and to Elouise being a vessel of the Holy Spirit, and Armond had given his testimony of events, and given a rationale for his decision when appealing to the crowd. Even Elouise disappearing into the crowd may not have been that unlikely; how often do you see a high church official take the place of a witch and burn at the stake? It would probably would have held the crowd’s attention and acted as a distraction.

    Anyway, one good thing about this discussion is that it reveals how differently each of our experiences of the same gaming session can be. I was thinking that we should probably add the ritual phase: “How about...” to our game for these types of things. I like this ritual phase because it requires the other player to suggest another direction, instead of just saying he doesn’t like the current one, which helps to keep the game going instead of bogging it down. When I use this technique, I try to adjust the original narration only enough to satisfy whatever issue I had with it; in other worlds the idea is to try to keep the original spirit intact while still making sure everyone stays satisfied with the story. I think we are typically pretty good at crafting a story together so we haven’t really been using this kind of technique, but I think it would have helped in this case.

    I, for one, enjoyed the story, but if that was at the cost of another player’s enjoyment the session needed to be different. We need to find a way to avoid this in the future, because it’s important that everyone gets a story they are happy with. Perhaps, we could try implementing the “How about...” rule, and if once an alternative narrative is presented the original narrator is not comfortable with the modification, than the player who introduced the “How about...” rule, could ask the original narrator: “What other way could you see this scene playing out?” and then the original narrator could come up with an alternative, and maybe, if it was still necessary, they could continue compromise until they can up with something that worked for both of them. What do you guys think about adding these procedures into our game? Any other comments would also be appreciated.
  • edited January 30
    Paul, David, Jonathan, etc., I added some extra stuff to my post above; so please reread and/or respond it if you are interested.
  • Hi Jeff, I think Paul was just looking for how to turn a 9/10 session into a 10/10 session. No harm was done.
  • There's a big difference between "you are expected to judge the ultimate fate of the Witch" and "will you sacrifice your own well-being to prevent a horrible injustice, at the last moment?", and I couldn't tell which was taking place in our game.

    I do see this as a slight flaw in the game text (although it's also possible I just missed something, too). I think it's a really important distinction.
    Ah! Great points. I did not get this at all from the questions you were asking. If I had, I would have happily spent time on it.

    Here's how I'd put it:

    Do the characters in Witch face (a) a choice constrained only by their own morality, or (b) a choice constrained largely by the path their world wants to force them down?

    My take is that the game's rules more support (a). We can go into that in depth if folks are interested. But as far as understanding our session goes, I was acting with (a) as my essential orientation.
    First, the characters dodged a bullet (the implied pressure of society/the King/the Church/the mob which drives things like witch burnings in the first place), and we managed to avoid that issue altogether.
    Gotcha. Yeah, I never saw that bullet coming in the first place. If I'd been playing with (b) in mind, then perhaps I'd agree with you.
    we managed to satisfy the concept of the sacrificial burning without actually, you know, killing an innocent young woman. I feel that tension is at the heart of the game, and our choice short-circuited it.
    I disagree. If I'd revealed that Elouise was indeed a witch, you would have faced the full consequences of your choice in horrific detail, I promise you. :)
    I find it hard to imagine that those people would suddenly accept a replacement at the last minute . . . Rather, I would expect mob rule to take over.
    Quite sensible. I think it depends entirely on situational factors which went entirely uncommunicated.

    How many monks are there, exactly? Do any of them have any chance against an armed knight? Did they know to expect this witch's arrival and burning? If so, do they even know what said witch looks like? Do they assume that any woman in a cage must in fact be a witch? Do they generally take part in burnings, or just maintain the site? Do they know Brother Armond? Does he outrank them?

    Because we never discussed any of that, I just rolled with "yes, and". When someone (Jeff?) narrated the crowd going along with Armond's choice, I just assumed unspoken situational factors which would enable that (e.g. Armond is already credible in their eyes and their culture is one in which voluntary sacrifice carries convincing authority).

    Sounds like we agree that a quick request for explication/elaboration (if primed by previously introducing key phrases for that purpose) would have covered it.
  • edited February 5
    it was pretty jarring to go from freeform, collaborative improv roleplaying (the way we had played the whole game up until then) to something that felt like a heavy GMed scene where I was intended to simply "play my character", and within tight constraints (in this case, "you can't defeat or avoid the heretics", but without that being stated outright - it was for us to discover, instead!).
    Makes sense to me! Two thoughts:

    1) Your and my different modes of character play in this game are rearing their heads again! Handling multiple responsibilities/stances -- or alternating between them very quickly -- seems to come much more naturally to you. Whereas "just playing my character" in any scene where I have a character to play seems to come much more naturally to me (and Jon, at least here with Ham). Anyway, I think your approach makes a lot of sense, and I can see how my GMing clashed with that approach, by communicating that your OOC tools were not welcome, and that no, really, I am THE GM right now! Possibly a poor choice on my part for Witch. But then there were also upsides, so... I dunno!

    2) Stating "you can't defeat or avoid the heretics" outright would have been wise. My goal is always to get there through the fiction, but that final step of bridging any remaining communication gap is important. "There are X number of archers in Y range/position," should mostly cover it, but continuing to say, "so you don't see any options to outfight them or to escape with the witch," is key too.
  • edited February 5
    Jeff, your Armond burning himself, in exactly the context which you just described (the plague, the series of burnings, Armond's own past, and especially what you and Paul had played out between Armond and Thorne), was fantastic! The way everything came together there was the highlight of the session and the part I'll most remember.

    Paul and I are just nitpicking because this session also seems like a possible opportunity to learn some things.

    For example, if I had made it clear that the characters were never facing immense "burn Elouise or the Church/King/community will kill me" pressure, Paul might not have had any "cop-out" feelings. Wrestling with fear vs empathy is a very different exercise with or without a gun to your head. Maybe through this discussion, Paul can improve his ability to ask, "Gun?" and I can improve my ability to communicate, "No gun." More generally, bothering to take the time up front to connect the game's player incentives to in-fiction character incentives might be particularly worthwhile in a game which combines some immersed character play with some constraints on situation.

    I'm down to try out some "try another way" or "show me more" ritual phrases in our games, though, to see what we think of 'em. :)
  • edited February 6
    So many things to respond here, and so little time. Generally speaking, I'm finding myself nodding along with everything in the last handful of posts. Very much on the same page!

    Taking some topics separately:

    Jon,

    First, your "Fudge Point" railroading technique. Definitely a good one! It clearly flags what's happening, telling the players when they should go along with something, as well as giving them an "out", if they want it. Not sure how that's at all applicable to our situation here, though, where we have a GMless environment that occasionally slips into a more heavily GMed situation, and there isn't or wouldn't be much point to any kind of character-based resource economy (or, at least, the game doesn't have one now).

    I'd be curious about exploring techniques which work well in a freefrom, GMless environment, though. (And that's actually what I'm hoping to discuss, although perhaps this particular topic belongs in the other thread!)

    Second, I liked your references to the historical reality of the time and place we were playing in, and agree completely. I was thinking about some of those myself, at the time!

    (Your observation about the historical reality of knights vs. peasants was running through my mind during the "heretics attack" scene, for instance.)

    Jeff,

    You seem to be looking at my observations about "dodging a bullet" as being about my dissatisfaction with the game, and, particularly, from Thorne's perspective.

    That's not at all how I see things. We had a really interesting and satisfying game, and (as you point out), the way Thorne's priorities, the story itself, and Armond's priorities came together was pretty awesome - it all slotted together perfectly. So, in this sense, I was very satisfied with Thorne's role in the story, and the way he got to face certain questions (and eventually come to the conclusion that the sacrifice of an innocent soul would act as a smaller-scale Christ-like event which could cleanse Britain). That was great!

    What I was slightly disappointed by was how neatly it allowed US, as a group, to dodge the question of the Witch-burning. I don't know if there are any historic instances of a priest/cleric burning himself in a witch's place (if there are, I would be intensely fascinated to read about one!), but it strained credibility a little for me. It was totally satisfying in the context of our game and our story, but I have a feeling there are good reasons that's not how it tended to go down in reality, and I would have liked to explore those reasons a little more.

    (Our failure to do so, however, has a lot to do with scheduling, too - we had to wrap up by the end of the session, after all. We're only human!)

    If I were to play again, I would want to explore the historical parameters of the whole witch-burning phenomenon, and try to understand better the pressures on people at the time to go along with it. It's something that's so utterly barbaric by modern standards, that I would hope to get a little insight into how it might have felt for people at the time, and what kinds of thoughts and pressures they might have struggled with.

    Your observations in this post, and the way you imagined Armond's standing with the Church, actually plug a lot of those holes for me. Reimagining that scene with Armond being a truly revered Church figure addresses a lot of those concerns, actually! It's cool to see that this is how you were picturing it.

    My own impression (or mental image), based on what I knew of Armond, his fake stigmata, and the mental image of our trio arriving at Lindisfarne, dirty, wounded, sick, and tried, was that we were more likely to be looked down upon as lowly servants or disgraced persons. Thorne, after all, was a failed knight dying of the plague. Armond - I thought - was somewhat of a failed priest desperately trying to get back his lost prestige (I guess I assumed this because of the fake stigmata - a rather desperate gesture - and because you hinted in many ways that he had lost his faith).

    I think that, for me, simply having a better understanding of what was happening in Lindisfarne and how the people there reacted to what was going on would have solved my dissatisfaction entirely. If it were clear that they revered us and were ready to accept our decision on our authority, that's a very different image from, say, an angry mob hungering for a witch-burning, or a bunch of monks suspicious about us and the nature of the Witch.

    I find the social implications of the whole witch-burning ritual/human sacrifice totally fascinating, and I would have liked to explore them more. If I have a chance to play this again, I think I'll want to read up about the history of such incidents first. That would make it much more interesting for me.
  • edited February 5

    Here's how I'd put it:

    Do the characters in Witch face (a) a choice constrained only by their own morality, or (b) a choice constrained largely by the path their world wants to force them down?

    My take is that the game's rules more support (a). We can go into that in depth if folks are interested. But as far as understanding our session goes, I was acting with (a) as my essential orientation.
    Agreed! The rules, and the structure of the game, seem to be pointed in that direction. However, the framing of that final scene seems to suggest otherwise (at least potentially). That threw me off a little, I think!

    More on this below...
    we managed to satisfy the concept of the sacrificial burning without actually, you know, killing an innocent young woman. I feel that tension is at the heart of the game, and our choice short-circuited it.
    I disagree. If I'd revealed that Elouise was indeed a witch, you would have faced the full consequences of your choice in horrific detail, I promise you. :)
    Ah, that's very interesting! I didn't realize that when we were playing. Knowing that there would be really nasty consequences to making the wrong choice certainly lends a different kind of weight to that decision! I like it.
    I find it hard to imagine that those people would suddenly accept a replacement at the last minute . . . Rather, I would expect mob rule to take over.
    Quite sensible. I think it depends entirely on situational factors which went entirely uncommunicated.

    How many monks are there, exactly? Do any of them have any chance against an armed knight? Did they know to expect this witch's arrival and burning? If so, do they even know what said witch looks like? Do they assume that any woman in a cage must in fact be a witch? Do they generally take part in burnings, or just maintain the site? Do they know Brother Armond? Does he outrank them?

    Because we never discussed any of that, I just rolled with "yes, and". When someone (Jeff?) narrated the crowd going along with Armond's choice, I just assumed unspoken situational factors which would enable that (e.g. Armond is already credible in their eyes and their culture is one in which voluntary sacrifice carries convincing authority).

    Sounds like we agree that a quick request for explication/elaboration (if primed by previously introducing key phrases for that purpose) would have covered it.
    This is a really good framing of the issue - I agree entirely. It's also a good description of what we all did together (in terms of "rolling with it", which was the right thing to do).

    I think that I expected the final Absolution to take place in isolation, on some distant island. The way the final ritual is framed with the companions carrying out all the work involved in making it happen (e.g. piling up wood, etc), and the structure of the game being all about the group making the decision as they wish, I assumed the group would be doing the whole thing on their own, out in the wilderness (like Abraham sacrificing Isaac on a mountaintop).

    When we got to the final scene, though, it turned out there was a whole monastery, people watching, etc. That changed my expectations dramatically, because surely these people also have demands and wishes and a stake in the situation? Why don't they play a role in the burning?

    It seems somewhat implausible to me that there isn't some kind of authority in place to oversee all this, either present (a member of the group, a member of the monastery who is officially "in charge" and expected to see it carried out) or back in London (e.g. the Church would punish us if we didn't carry out this task to completion).

    I understand that this part of the story might be intentionally omitted to make for a more focused *game* (the players should have the freedom to decide what happens, that's the whole point), but it doesn't seem entirely believable to me, from a historical perspective. In such matters, I think, whoever put the thing in motion in the first place would always choose or create some kind of authority to make sure it was carried out, with consequences for failure. There's always an "executioner" or some other authority figure who's job it is to make sure this all happens as it was ordered.

    This is why I think it's significant to understand what the characters were told to do when they set out from London. Is the Witch's fate already sealed, and we are just playing the pawns in the larger game, servants tasked with carrying out a grim sacrifice for the greater good? Are we servants carrying out orders? (This seems most plausible to me, and the game strongly suggests that her Witch nature is a given.) Or is the Witch's identity still in question, and the companions are expected to undergo a long journey and trial in order to *determine* whether she is a Witch in the first place, and then decide accordingly? Are we, then, both judge, jury, and executioner, with the authority to decide either way? (That's what the structure of the *game* suggests or implies, but it's at odds with the idea that she is a Witch, full stop - the players and characters are expected to wonder, but the scenario seems to clearly assume that she is one, at least in the eyes of the public - not a *potential* witch, but an *actual* one.)

    Those are the questions I was pondering, and, in terms of that being shown "on screen" in our game - the one time it actually came into question - it came down to "how do the monks at Lindisfarne react to our actions?"

    Up until that point, our characters were on their own, and anything we wanted to imagine was just fine. But here, suddenly the topic was brought to the forefront: there are all these people watching! How do they feel about this? What's actually at stake? Who's in charge? Their presence, for me, at least, suddenly made this question relevant to us, and we didn't address it, so the fiction became a little vague and unclear at that point.

    In short - to summarize - my questions here are all basically about the history of this kind of sacrificial burning, and could probably be answered by finding some good texts on the subject.

    Earlier, when we played Dog Eat Dog, Jon's knowledge of the residential school system brought a lot of nuance and context to the game. I think bringing some similar understanding to this game would have improved it a lot, at least for me. What we did by leaving this part very vague was sort akin to playing out our residential school scenario but misunderstanding a really vital part, like forgetting that enrolling in those schools wasn't an entirely free choice for the parents of the children (for instance) - it defuses the whole thing just a little. :)
  • Jeff, your Armond burning himself, in exactly the context which you just described (the plague, the series of burnings, Armond's own past, and especially what you and Paul had played out between Armond and Thorne), was fantastic! The way everything came together there was the highlight of the session and the part I'll most remember.

    Paul and I are just nitpicking because this session also seems like a possible opportunity to learn some things.

    For example, if I had made it clear that the characters were never facing immense "burn Elouise or the Church/King/community will kill me" pressure, Paul might not have had any "cop-out" feelings. Wrestling with fear vs empathy is a very different exercise with or without a gun to your head. Maybe through this discussion, Paul can improve his ability to ask, "Gun?" and I can improve my ability to communicate, "No gun." More generally, bothering to take the time up front to connect the game's player incentives to in-fiction character incentives might be particularly worthwhile in a game which combines some immersed character play with some constraints on situation.

    I'm down to try out some "try another way" or "show me more" ritual phrases in our games, though, to see what we think of 'em. :)
    This is a really good summary of the topic, for me. I agree in full with this whole post! And I'm totally willing to try whatever you'd like to try, Jeff.

  • I think I covered everything except the "heretics attack" scene, and its challenges.

    In that scene I was a little torn, because I wanted to express the character's position on the whole situation, which requires some "director stance" abilities, but I could also tell that Dave was driving hard towards something specific, and I was quite taken with the scene in general, so it was very hard for me to tell how I could actually interact with the scene without getting in the way (of what everyone else was doing).

    For instance, perhaps Thorne would finally gain some sense of heroism and stand up to the attackers and reclaim some of his lost honour! But that would require a certain framing, and the impression I got from Dave's responses was that trying anything like that would lead to a pretty quick and inglorious demise.

    (For instance, killing one of the heretics didn't frighten or dismay any of the others, nor open up opportunities for further action from me, but, instead, led to three more surrounding my character, with bows drawn and out of range of my sword.)

    In addition, I was struggling to figure out what stance I should even approach this from: a more distant, "author stance" or "director stance" approach was what the game so far had featured for us, but here was this really engaging scene, which made me want to experience it "in character" as much as possible, and I had a strong sense of what the character wanted (basically, to survive), and I couldn't quite square the two.

    On top of that, it looked like Dave was more or less trying to kill us all, and one of the game's constraints (if I remember correctly) was that the characters couldn't die before the final scene. Did that mean that if I threw myself headfirst into danger, I would be presenting Dave with a frustrating and impossible dilemma, and being a jackass?

    With no clear sense of what any decisions would actually mean on my part, and seeing that the others were doing really cool things in the scene (Ham was enjoying being a traitor/coward, and this seemed pretty interesting, since it hinted at his secret identity, Dave clearly had something cool up his sleeve, and Armond was doing a great job being a holy preacher), I couldn't think of anything to do except to remove myself.

    That, in short, is why I really enjoyed the scene as an audience member, but simply had no idea of how I could even interact with it via my character. Once I threw Thorne to the ground, under the dead mule, I could simply sit back and enjoy.

    (I would also say that this scene prompt should be rewritten in some way, as I'd expect many/most players to interpret it in the way we did, which isn't ideal. It's a really good one, and - again - the highlight of the game for me - so I wouldn't want it to be discarded, nor am I sure how to fix it, but... there should be a better way, I think. Dave's "look for opportunities for the Witch to solve a problem no one else can" or something like it would be good, but it doesn't reliably work as a scene prompt, in my opinion.)
  • Next time I'll just have heretics kill you and then the witch can resurrect you. :)
  • Brilliant!
  • (And then I will naturally offer myself as the sacrifice at the end...)
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