A sandbox of mysteries

A persistent world, lots of interesting things to do, and players decide which way their characters go. And the core activity is solving mysteries; some mundane, some turn out to be more than that. Character stables are recommended, but not mandatory.

The question is, what kind of set-up allows a sufficient amount of mysteries while keeping the game world credible?

  • Cthulhu is the classic. I am not quite sure I want to live with the baggage and there is also a classic problem: how to have mysteries come in, one after another. Even if the background mystery ends up being Cthulhu, it needs a stronger concept for the characters to stay together.
  • An organization that investigates mysteries, in the style of Delta green or whatever the group in Väsen is called, would work just fine.
  • A sufficiently large city would allow going with private detectives, a mystery cult or some similar group.
  • Some kind of school-type institute, with the characters being children, could work in a local game.

What is the background mystery? It is likely the metaphysics of the game world or something that is about to break it. Cthulhu, the remnants of folklore, serpent men, etc. A unified background mystery is probably better than a disjointed soup of everything possible mixed in, though that has its pleasures. The actual mysteries in play would be a mix or ordinary cases and things with connections to the background mystery.

A third matter is the rules system. Pretty much any traditionalish system would work fine. Anything with failing forward is dangerous, as it creates a mechanism for the game master to take away the mystery-solving from the players. Same with some Apocalypse world -type knowledge rolls.

  • DIY: a skill system that allows separate types of characters, plus some other mechanical complexity, maybe. Simple and elegant.
  • Miseries and misfortunes, with the failing forward removed, would work and the magic system would be a good fit. Finding players might be challenging.
  • Call of Cthulhu or some other traditional system would work.
  • But please, no Gumshoe, the antithesis of sandbox mystery solving gameplay.

A sandbox of mysteries

Miseries and misfortunes – suunniteltu pelinjohtotapa

Kirjoittelin aiheesta aiemmin englanniksi: https://ropeblogi.wordpress.com/2020/12/29/how-to-play-miseries-and-misfortunes/

Nyt, kokemuksen ja paremman sääntötuntemuksen kanssa, vaikuttaa siltä että oletettu pelitapa on todellakin hahmoja juhlistava.

Laajempi rakenne

Pelinjohtajalla on päävastuu seikkailuiden tarjoamisesta, pelaajalla motivoituneen hahmon pelaamisesta. Seikkailun jälkeen useampi hahmo päätyy luultavasti tauolle mortal coil -heittojen vuoksi. Tällöin pelinjohtaja voi tarjota seikkailun taukojen mentyä ohi tai vaihtoehtoisesti ennen sitä. Pelaaja saa kuitenkin päättää, jatkaako hän samalla hahmolla vai tekeekö uuden, jos edellinen on jo pelikunnossa.

Toisaalta epäilen, että suunnittelija itse on pelannut enemmän kertapelejä. Tämä näkyy siinä, että pelissä ei ole sääntöjä tarkemman pelaamisen ulkopuolisille tapahtumille. Koen pelille uskolliseksi tavaksi jättää tämä aika oleellisesti huomiotta; kenties kertoa muutamalla virkkeellä, että mitä kenellekin nyt taas kuuluu uuden seikkailun alkaessa.

Pelinjohtajan toki kannattaa suunnitella seikkailut hahmojen ympärille ja käyttäen aikahyppyjä oikeutuksena niille.

Seikkailun aikana

Pelinjohtaja voi lyödä hahmoja kovaa. Eteenpäin kaatuminen ja ennen kaikkea mortal coil:in mahdollistamat uusiksiheitot valtavilla eduilla tarkoittavat, että hahmot kyllä pärjäävät, jos pelaajat niin haluavat. Ainoana hintana on hahmon mahdollisen uran lyhentäminen. Nopanheitot siis lähinnä muuttavat vähitellen hahmon asemaa tilanteessa paremmaksi tai huonommaksi, tai sitten kertovat, että pitääkö oleellisessa tilanteessa käyttää tai olla käyttämättä elinikää onnistuaakseen kuitenkin.

Henkilökohtainen ongelma

Tämä kaikki on varsin selkeää. Pelitapa vain ei satu kiinnostamaan minua, olen tässä huomannut. Haluan oleellisten heittojen määrittävän pelin kulkua, sen sijaan että ne kertoisivat paljonko pitää maksaa, jotta heiton voi jättää huomiotta.

Miseries and misfortunes – suunniteltu pelinjohtotapa

The grimoire heist

This is a short game of Miseries and misfortunes, taking between one and three sessions; three only if characters are created from scratch during the first and if play is also slow or sessions short.

  • Play on weekends, either Saturday or Sunday, with time friendly for someone in Europe with family. We’ll start when it suits the players. Please let me know which weekend days suit you. We’ll aim for biweekly or weekly schedule.
  • Play online through Discord or a similar service.
  • Rules pre-knowledge is not necessary, but does help.
  • Previous knowledge about the setting is by no means necessary. Think of Paris and musketeers.
  • You can bring in an existing M&M character, should you have one.
  • It is possible to participate in only some of the sessions, thought it is doubtless more rewarding to take part in all.

The idea

A foreign nobleman, known as Jean de la Suède, has married a local noblewoman, Antoinette. They live in an apartment with some servants, and it is a strange apartment, given their status and wealth, being an old boutique in an area dominated by craftsfolk. Your interest lies in them having a certain occult tome, Rauðskinna by Gottskálk. During character generation we will figure out why you are after this tome; to discredit the owners, to sell it, to learn necromancy from it? But the grimoire is what you want.

What happens in play

  • Character generation; most of it can be done asynchronously, but if not, we’ll do it together.
  • During or after character generation we’ll figure out your motivations for wanting to get your hands on Rauðskinna. We’ll also figure out the motif for your character group and who Jean and Antoinette really are. Part of this will be public information, part will be secret GM knowledge you may be able to get your hands on by creative or effective play.
  • In actual play, it is known that the couple hosts a saloon once every d6+1 days or so. A character with sufficient reputation could certainly get in or even invited. But more likely you will try something else: break in, threaten, beat up, just honestly buy the book, etc.
  • Every day, the player characters whose obligations exceed their wealth have a chance of feeling it. I’ll roll a die of fate every day for every character. The clock is ticking. When the die of fate tells that now things get interesting, I’ll roll a die of fate for every obligation of the character to see which get acute, and continue doing this until the character gets their finances in order, one way or another.
  • I presume the play will first consist of information gathering. There are people who know them, or you can spy and shadow, and maybe there are official archives with relevant information. Their family relationships can certainly be found out somehow, somewhere. But all of this takes time and there is no guarantee you can make use of any particular piece of information. How deep and where will you dig, and how successfully? And will it be helpful?
  • At some point you will create or stumble upon an opportunity, or exhaust your ideas about how to prepare more, and will choose to take action. Or maybe the financial obligations or other stress is too much and threatens to break you. In any case, at some point you will decide to act, I hope; hard to succeed otherwise. You may want to formulate a plan and then try to pull it through. We’ll play it out in detail and see what happens; maybe you succeed, maybe not, maybe there are consequences.
  • At the end, we will figure out what kind of consequences there are to your character in the near and far future. Good grist for the mill for future play with the same character. Roll for mortal coil for those who used it.

Gamemastering method

This section is completely voluntary reading, of interest to those who might want to compare and contrast with different methods, or who would like to understand this particular short game better.

The point about gathering knowledge might sound like I have a secret cache of relevant information hidden somewhere, or maybe a trail of breadcrumbs. I do have some amount of hidden information; I know the layout of the building, why they have it, where the grimoire is, and a bunch of other things I have deduced during and as a consequence of the character generation session.

However, I do not know to what extent any of this information will turn out to be useful. I do not know if you can get your hands on it; above, I just wrote down some obvious avenues of investigation that occurred to me, but they were me thinking about how the game world functions. The family trees of nobility are certainly archived and collected by a number of people and maybe even some institute, so sure, if you want to know some of that, go ahead and try to get your hands on it. I don’t know if it will be useful, and it is not my job to figure out whether it will be. That we will see in play. The players decide where to go and how much to pay for it in terms of time and money.

The pressure to act (financial, mostly) and any opportunities to act are likewise not calibrated by me. They are what they are. Maybe you all have luck and rich characters who can take their time. Or maybe you have bad luck and poor characters who have to act, right here and now, or otherwise things will only worsen. We will see in play. I will not be providing any particular opportunities to act, but if you make room for such, I will check if they do occur. If you find where Antoinette’s parents live and stay on watch, there is a fair chance of seeing them, for example, as one would imagine. Whether that is useful or not is, again, up to player ingenuity and something to be seen in play.

The process here is not that I, as the all-knowing game master, prescribe what works or not. Rather, we discuss how the world works and figure out how difficult various tasks should be, and then figure out how to roll for it within the mechanical framework of Miseries and misfortunes. This is a means of keeping the game world credible and sharing our information about it at the same time. It also allows characters and players to succeed and fail on their own merits, rather than on gamemaster whim.

The grimoire heist

How to play Miseries and misfortunes?

I see two options: brutal slice of life and urban old school play. I think both of them would be credible ways of using the rules. Based on Luke Crane’s reports at the forums, https://forums.burningwheel.com/c/Historical-Fiction-in-1648/Actual-play-sil-vous-plait/94 , he seems to be going more for drama and brutal slices of life.

Brutal slice of life

This is actually just how Eero Tuovinen sees Cyberpunk, so why not read that: https://www.arkenstonepublishing.net/isabout/2020/02/20/cyberpunk-2020-redux/#1-creative-model-simpunks-amp-nailbags

We play characters, pretty true to the historical period, who are about to face violence, verbal or physical. We want to see how they survive and at what price. (Mortal coil is very generous; a character might die after the situation, but is virtually guaranteed to not do it in action.)

Do they become rich or poor? Lose friends, make enemies, or the other way around? Learn or use some magic? Lose or gain reputation? The game is well-equipped to provide answers to these questions.

After the action a number of characters are likely to test mortal coil, which almost certainly has those characters recuperating for months, though some might die or only be off play for weeks or even days.

Something missing

The game is completely silent on what happens during the downtime for characters who are not active, or for those who are, for that matter. Given that many characters are likely to face financial ruin fresh from character creation, this becomes important as soon as the first adventure is completed.

Urban old school play

Here, we play characters who have ambitions, and we try to get them to succeed at those and do well in life. The game master does the neutral referee thing; provides an environment for the play to happen, referees the goings-on, etc.

Play consists of essentially two phases that alternate: A laid-off downtime phase, where the characters might do some light activity and fish for adventure hooks, and then the actual adventures themselves. Whereas in the slice of life play the game master is responsible for coming up with adventures, here it is the players who try to find profitable ones while avoiding the dangerous and stupid random encounters that might mess them up for no good reason.

The same downtime rules are missing as above, and maybe to a larger degree.

A discord server

One purpose is to discuss the game. Another purpose is to find people to play the game with. Welcome. https://discord.gg/69keXPAN5s

How to play Miseries and misfortunes?