Speaking of indie RPGs, can we get a big shout-out for Trollbabe
For those unfamiliar with Trollbabe (most people, actually) it could be described as "the anti-D20" of RPGs. It has an absolute minimum of stats and bookkeeping; it is completely
focused on roleplaying and telling a cool story. It is a completely mindbending experience if you're from the AD&D/D20/RoleMaster old school of RPG'ing.
If you're serious about the role-playing aspect of RPG's, Trollbabe is worth a read just for the way it breaks down Stakes, Scale, Scenes, Narrative, and Relationships -- things that all other RPG's depend upon, but that are never mentioned explictly. Trollbabe cuts to the bone; all that is superflous is mercilessly sheared away. You know, stuff like feats, spell lists, alignments, hit points and shit. It is uncanny!
My little circle of role-playing friends have recently experimented with it. If you're an old dungeonfreak (as we are) there's definitely a period of adjustment while trying to wrap your noggin around a new ruleset, but the rewards... ohh, we have such sights to show you...
And all of this is just the prelude to this very cool AP report
by Brand_Robins over at rpg.net. Read and enjoy:
(Trollbabe/Conan) AP: The Heart Ripper
While I was in Cali I played a game of pseudo-Trollbabe with my brother, whom we'll call Z. It was short, intense, and a lot of fun. This is unusual, as games with Z tend to be long, slightly flat, and often a little disappointing.
Z is younger than me, has a speech impediment, and several learning disabilities. He sort of grew up in my shadow in a lot of ways (those of you who know me can probably appreciate how â€“not fun- it would be to be my younger brother). Not only that but he played with me as a GM in the very worst of my illusionist abusive whammy asshole GM days, and as a result turned into a classic example of several forms of abused player syndrome. He turtles, he always looks for the right answer, he only plays characters who are of the most white-bread middle class superhero morality, he freezes under pressure, and he waits for the GM to tell him a story rather than participating in creating the story himself.
Now, despite all of that he isn't a horrible player. But historically he functioned best in semi-gamist games with clear expectations, easy and obvious answers to most of the problems presented, and rather pre-prepped set-pieces that were designed to allow him to step on up without actually having to step up. Anything more than that, and anxiety sets in.
So of course I figured, "hell, lets play a nar game with no morals and no ability for me to tell the story to him." I'm just that kind of asshole.
We played using Trollbabe rules, but for various reasons (such as my personal inability to take trollbabes seriously, much less sell them to someone else) we didn't do the "trollbabe" angle. Instead we did a pseudo-Hyborean age game. To do this we looked at a map of Howard's world and I asked Z what he thought of the names (he's never read much Conan). He liked Stygia, and when I said it was like evil Egypt, he proclaimed that he wanted to be a Stygian prince and necromancer.
This shocked the hell out of me. I jumped in to support, though, and a few minutes later we had his character sketched out and statted. He was a member of the nobility, looking for a way to lead his family to great power, and an initiate of the darkest and most ancient of Stygian arts. In every way this was a departure character from those Z normally plays, and one that felt in a lot of ways like it came right out of Howard â€“ the kind of guy that would be Conan's arch enemy.
For the game I used the setup stakes from the books about the shape-shifting cat being hunted by the brutal village warrior. I changed the cat to be a hot chick though, because romance and sexuality is another thing Z normally shied from in games and I wanted to see what would happen now that he seemed to have some boldness behind him.
Sure enough as the game started up, Z reverted to some of his bad habits. We'd set him up as being in the mountains looking for the magic of an ancient tribe who were said to worship snow cats and to gain connections with the local Afghuli tribe. But when I introduced a snow cat being stalked by the brutal Afghulis, his immediate reaction was to leave the area and avoid contact with either. When I asked why his answer was, "Becauseâ€¦ it could be dangerous."
I decided to roll with it, and asked him if he wanted a contest to make something happen, or to say what he did besides just leave. Did he want to see if he could get away without the Afghuli's noticing, for example? He thought about this for a minute, and then said, "No, I want to talk to the Afghulis and find out why they're here, but first I want to scare the crap out of them."
We rolled, he won, we described his character stepping out from behind an ancient standing stone â€“ right into the face of the leader of the Afghulis who was shocked and horrified to discover a Stygian who could sneak up on him in his own home territory. Z then asked, very timidly, if he could make another roll to learn some information about why they were hunting the cat. I told him that he didn't have to, that his roll to intimidate the Afghulis covered the whole conflict of finding out what they were doing.
Something changed in Z then, and he started getting aggressive. His character became domineering and frightening. He just about broke the Afghulis as men before letting them slink off back to their village. But once the scene was over he lost momentum again, and said he wanted to "scout the land." When I asked why, he said so he would knowâ€¦ and then stopped, not sure what he even wanted to know.
At that point I asked if he wanted to just skip to something cool. He said yes, that would be better. So we jumped to him tracking the snow cat into the mountains, and stumbling across an ancient burial mound that was full of wicked energy. When he went into the sacred ground, a beautiful woman confronts him and tells him he is not welcome. He says that he's going to make her let him in, and talk to him. I ask how, and he says, "I'm going to seduce her." I tell him to roll, and he fails, fails, and then on his third reroll manages to win. By the rules this means that his character is down and out -- but he gets to narrate his fate. So he up and falls in love with her, totally failing to get any information out of her. They do have sex, but in his own description "for the first time his dark cold heart knows the thrill of life." It was interesting watching him fight for that third roll, even though he knew that going for it could toally FUBAR his character he was willing to take a huge risk to be able to describe how and why he went down.
And from that moment on, Z was on a tear. It was like he wanted to see how far he could push this stuff, like he finally saw something he'd always wanted and wasn't going to stop until he had it. He started calling for conflicts left and right. He'd push his rerolls when he needed to win, and let his character lose when he decided it would be cool to have a setback.
After three days of bliss with his new lover, the Afghulis caught up. When the they attacked he used magic to rip their hearts out of their chests People of the Black Circle style. He turned their corpses into zombies and used them to track down and murder their chieftain in an 5 roll long series that came down to a nail-biting finale. And when the dying chieftain told him that he could not protect the snow cat because his whole village would see her dead, Z started a conflict that ended with him butchering their shaman in the main street of the village while the villagers watched on with horror (another moment that could have been right out of People of the Black Circle â€“ which I know for a fact my brother never read), and then forcing the men of the village to tie up their women and children so that he could lead the bound captives into slavery in Stygian labor pits. The men he gave a choice, they could come into slavery and protect their families, or die and serve him forever as undead. Most chose slavery.
At the end of the game, when I'd narrated the people walking down the hill with the nooses about their necks and the snow cat watching from the top of a mountain, Z suddenly kicks in and says, "And he never sees the snow woman again, for she knows now that he is a monster and avoids him forever after. Thus it is that Amunku never knows of the child she bears, until the day when father and son finally meet in battle to the death."
And that's how the game ended, with my turtling, never makes a character statement, afraid of sexuality, morally upright playing brother taking over narration and putting in a statement about the stakes of the game and the story he had just told. The combination of conflict resolution, distributed narration, and the understanding that there was no "right" thing to do worked, and Z and I had the most fun in an RPG we've had in at least a decade.
It really does. Check it ouT -- it is liberating, for lack of a better word. Trollbabe ain't your old man's dungeonbash, that's for fuckin' sure...