[personal profile] barrington
Yesterday my friend Scott and I playtested [livejournal.com profile] emprint's Swords Against Darkness, a two-player narrative driven RPG. Below is a write-up of our session from yesterday. We have a few questions and found some stuff in the rules that needs clarification or fixing; we also found that as first time players we probably made a bunch of mistakes...

First up, the actual play:

The Characters

Grando, lusty ex-soldier
  • Jaunty cap
  • Goatee
  • Ashen Cloak
  • Passion for life
  • Rapier, Dagger (as rapier)
  • Pantherish speed
  • Red: 8, Black: 5
Malkin, vengeful disowned noble bastard
  • Broad-brimmed hat
  • Hideous scar (2 black)
  • Tarnished finery (1 red, 1 black)
  • Lust for vengeance (1 black)
  • Ancestral blade (as greatsword)
  • Leather pants
  • Red: 5, Black: 8
  • Distrust of women
  • Love of food
  • Peasant sensibilities (Grando) / Noble upbringing (Malkin)
  • Lady charmer (Grando) / Rude bastard (Malkin)

Location: 6C - A camp of hungry rebels
Peril: 7D - A thief-lord buys up all your debt and demands a seemingly minor theft to cover it
End location: 5D - The fight pits are blood and terror below, gambling and gold above

The story begins with Grando and Malkin mid-quarrel.

M: Well, I've run up a terrible debt trying to live it up at the inn.
G: Why didn't you just talk to one of the ladies? Go and stay with them?
M: I did talk to one of the ladies. She slapped me in the face.
G: What did you say?
M: I said 'I'm sure I will have the money by the end of the week! Now get out of my sight.'
G: The 'get out of my sight', that probably did it.
M: She was a servant, she was below my notice.

They had been staying in a fine inn in the city, despite being paupers; Malkin repeatedly promised he would have the money to pay the bill, sure his vengeance (and accompanying gold) would come soon. He treated the servants rudely, leading to their expulsion from the city, and they took refuge in the rebel camp. Grando is less than pleased.

M: This thief has bought all our debt.
G: He has bought our debt...well, we have no money, because unfortunately, that last woman I was with took my purse. So I can't help you.
M: He wants us to steal the takings from the fight pits!
G: If only you'd learned to talk to women, instead of paying for it...
M: I didn't pay her for that!
G: Then what was the money for?
M: We'd been living in that inn for three weeks! We ate more food than we could pay for.
G: Yes, well. I mean, I've paid for it, too, but not by choice. She robbed me!

Prize: The fight pit takings

First encounter

Location: 6C - a rebel camp (as start)
Element: JC - a surgeon, hard at his grisly work

Malkin suggests that they might gain entrance to the city - and thence the pits - if they can convince the surgeon in the camp that he is a surgeon too, and Grando his assistant - after all, they always need surgeons in the pits. Grando thinks this is ridiculous, as he had some training in surgery when he served, and Malkin should be his servant. Malkin grudgingly agrees, while Grando wonders if he might not get to speak to some female wrestlers, with Malkin safely in the background not causing trouble...

Round 1

The challenge is 10.

G: I tell the surgeon that I am trained in surgery too, and that we could go together to the pits to aid any rebels forced to fight there. (1 red)
M: Unfortunately the surgeon is not himself a rebel, and regards you with suspicion! He is only because he is paid to be. (1 black)
G: I tell the surgeon that I don't realy care for the rebellion, and appeal to his greed, suggesting the pits would pay much better. (1 red)
M: The surgeon's eyes light up at the plan, though he is greedy enough to want to carry it out on his own. (1 black)

We weren't sure when to end, so we stopped here for round one. We roll:

Grando scores 1 red hit and 1 red miss.
Malkin scores 2 black hits.

Grando's red misfortune is negated by Malkin's black hits.

Grando has 6 red, 5 black and 5 luck/vitality.
Malkin has 5 red, 6 black and 5 luck/vitality.

Round 2

The challenge is now 9.

M: I cast an eye over the surgeon's rusty instruments, suggesting he's not official, but we won't report him if he aids us. (1 red)
G: I give all my belongings to you to carry, and offer for you to carry the surgeon's gear too, since you are my "servant". (1 black)
M: I pile the bags up high, hiding my face - and scar - behind them as I set off to a city gate, so as not to be recognised by the guards. (1 red)
G: It matters not, as the guards have nodded off! (1 red)
M: But if they are asleep, then they cannot raise the gate! (1 black)
G: I wave some stolen papers at the guards to vouch for us entering the city. (1 red)
M: The guards wake, but are too drowsy to check the papers properly. (1 red)

We call an end to the round, and roll:

Grando scores 2 red hits and 1 black miss.
Malkin scores 3 red hits and 1 black hit.

Grando has 4 red, 4 black and 5 luck/vitality.
Malkin has 2 red, 5 black and 5 luck/vitality.

Round 3

The challenge is now 4.

We've made it past the outer guards, but there are some more alert guards on the inside of the gates!

G: I tell them Rosie has the pox, and we are bringing soothing balms into the city. (1 red)
M: The guard, not so easily swayed, asks "Rosie who?" (1 black)
G: "As if anyone knows her last name!" I retort. (1 red)
M: We walk straight in while they laugh heartily. (1 red)
G: With the bags piled in front of your face, you fail to notice a loose stone, and trip over! (1 black)
M: The guards now really laugh themselves stupid, while the surgeon is outraged and scambles to collect his equipment. (1 red)

That seems like a good point to end, so we roll:

Grando scores 2 red misses and 1 black hit.
Malkin scores 1 red hit, 1 red miss and 1 black miss.

Malkin's red misfortune is soaked by Grando's black hit, but Grando is not so lucky.

Though it's not in the rules, I see from the example of play that it's possible to convert luck into dice. Not sure of how many are allowed, Malkin chooses to only convert 1 luck into 1 red dice.

Grando has 2 red, 3 black and 3 luck/vitality.
Malkin has 1 red, 4 black and 4 luck/vitality.

Round 4

The challenge is now 3.

M: While everyone else is distracted, I pull you into an alley. (1 red)
G: Once safely under cover of darkness, I reveal that I have managed to hang on to the surgeon's papers! (1 red)
M: Seeing as you can barely read, I remark that you have not noticed his papers are temporary, and expire today - we must hurry! (1 black)
G: I spy a blacksmith - and where there's a blacksmith, there are horses! (1 red)

We don't have much left to give, so we end the round and roll:

Grando scores 2 red hits.
Malkin scores 1 red hit and 1 black hit.

Grando has 0 red, 3 black and 3 luck/vitality.
Malkin has 0 red, 3 black and 4 luck/vitality.

The challenge is overcome! Malkin narrates Grando's success:

Having stolen into the city via the gate without detection, you sneak into the blacksmith's and return with two horses, onto which we leap and ride away!


Grando draws a card for inspiration in narrating the interlude, and gets QH. As we ride, he tells a rousing tale of how he sired a bastard with the whore-queen of Sithfanar, and we both feel the blood stirring within us, regaining our red dice and luck/vitality.

Grando has 8 red, 3 black and 5 luck/vitality.
Malkin has 5 red, 3 black and 5 luck/vitality.
The above is an after-the-fact retelling; we made plenty of mis-steps along the way. Here are some of our unresolved questions:

First, we're not sure what the dice actually represent. We understood a red die is an affirmative action that overcomes the challenge, while a black die is a setback for your partner, but it wasn't always easy to decide if an action should have a red or black.

Likewise, we weren't sure what a round or scene was meant to represent either; as you can see from our play, we didn't have a terribly clear goal defined for the scene, and weren't sure how it would feed into the next one, until the end. Our riffing seemed a bit over-complicated, as well, though this could be because we were still getting the hang of it. (Applying a lot of what I've learned from improvisational theatre could help there.)

A couple of rules questions: the initial rules say characters should have 15 dice, and mentions 2 for a feet slot, but the tables and character sheet don't mention this. The rules also mention vitality being sapped by red misfortunes, but not how much vitality a character has; I figured it was the luck mentioned in your actual play example, and gave us 5 each. Even so, it seems that black dice are much less useful than red dice, and see much less use - there's no way to protect against the loss of red dice as a scene progresses, so it seems that if you roll badly, it could easily be impossible to complete a scene - we managed to do so, but only by using all of our red dice, plus another one drawn from vitailty/luck.

Our main feedback is that while the game is very freeform, a little more structure or guidance regarding what scenes and rounds represent would go a long way to aiding new players get the hang of things. Also, we were probably a bit confused about the end location - clearly as players we know where we're ending up, which makes it easier to make the story fit, but are the characters also supposed to know? Using the fight pit as part of our prize seems like a mistake, in hindsight, since ending the story at the scene of the robbery would leave the story unfinished...

Anyway, those are our observations. Hope that helps!

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