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Feral Dragons on an Obstacle Course

Last night, Dad, Mom, and Kiddo and I played a variation on the Goblin Quest playtest. This is a game in which you have 5 goblin characters and rotate through them as each of your goblins dies. You build a dice pool based on your relevant stats, though ultimately, you pick one to 4 d6’s to roll, with a 1/3 chance of success and a 1/3 chance of hit point loss (and each goblin has 2 hit points).

The result is universally a silly game where you’re trying to do whatever the quest is, before the clock (and your supply of goblins) runs out.

We modified it for the Feral Dragons that were invented last week, with a few changes. The clutch had Something We’re Good At, Something We’re Terrible At, and each dragon had a Special Feature that had to be somehow visible. You couldn’t just say “We’re smart.” You had to have some way that I would look at the character and see that they are smart.

Mechanically, Goblin Quest boils down to “build a dice pool of 1-4 d6’s, roll them, and narrate how you get hurt and/or succeed, based on the dice rolls. You need nx9 successes, where n is the number of players, over the course of the story, to complete the quest, and each player can get 10 injuries total before they are out. Statistically, it favors failure.

The FDM's Notes
The FDM’s Notes

I had everyone write down a clutch and good/terrible, and one feral dragon. Dad and Kiddo sped ahead and wrote down several ferals to start, but I mentioned they would probably want to change them when they came up in play.

Dad made his feral clutch based on the Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo.

The Mystery Machine Ferals (I wanted to kill Scrappy Doo more than anything else in any game I've ever played....)
The Mystery Machine Ferals (I wanted to kill Scrappy Doo more than anything else in any game I’ve ever played….)

Mom made hers based on Starbucks drinks.

Mocha died falling and breaking a nail, I believe....
Mocha died falling and breaking a nail, I believe….

And Kiddo made hers based on misery and pain… except not.

The Misery Clutch of Emo Power-Ups
The Misery Clutch of Emo Power-Ups

We also made a fiction rule that feral dragons who “die” are not dead. They turn to stone, but will be back to normal the next day. This explains a LOT about the other feral dragons and their relative lack of concern when someone is turned to stone.

As a back-pocket rule, losing the second hit point didn’t have to mean death or even being turned to stone for any feral dragon, as long as they were taken out of the story. This was important later.

I sketched a little map and they decided to have a quest of clearing out the trampoline (it was supposed to be a barn, but hey. Trampoline!) and that morphed into an obstacle course which would have crocodiles they needed to swing above on a rope, and a tire obstacle, and the trampoline. We invented another group of ferals, the Gloop Gloops, who would compete with them.

In the course of the game, we realized that the prize was the much-desired “Bone Thingy,” also known as a skeleton! If you’re paying attention to my Epyllion posts, you know that ferals who do not have a skeleton are Trouble. I think we know why, now.

The three stages of the adventure were to get rope and tires, set up the course and clear out the trampoline brush, and then run the race.

In the first scene, Dad’s dragon “Fred” whose special feature was “wears an ascot” cast some powerful dragon magic. Now, we’re not saying he turned into a pile of tires. We’re just saying that when the smoke cleared, there were tires and Fred was gone.

Kiddo’s dragon Undead had a special feature of being able to remove her body parts and reattach them. She lost her last hit point when she took off her own head to scare the rival Gloop Gloops. There is now a feral dragon statue holding her own head out with a scary face.

The Gloop Gloops showed up in scene two, during the setup, and cast a curse on the dragons. From that point on, the characters all had an extra d6 for their dice, an orange die that I had in my collection. They had to roll it until it was somehow negated, and the d6 always had a -1. This escalated the failures quite a bit, but that d6 rolls 6’s a lot, and on the balance, I think it helped more than hindered the players.

The hijinx in the game were very high. The tension was ratcheted up in the final scene, the actual race, where the players had to decide how much their dragons wanted to cheat ( the Gloop Gloops are notorious cheaters).

At one point, Dad’s dragons (they were modeled on the Mystery Machine characters) unmasked a crocodile as Old Man Winters.

Kiddo had made a feral dragon named Talent who was good at “Everything.” I passed a note to her dad that this was Kiddo’s 4th RPG session and she was already min maxing. I’m so proud.

Her next-to-last character was L.M., who was super-smart and had a power armor suit (power creep!) L.M. is an interesting dragon, because Kiddo was emotionally invested in her. When L.M. rolled a bunch of 1’s on the dice, she wanted to take it back.

Her parents were firm– you can’t take it back.

I’m the FDM (Feral Dragon Master). Kiddo was really upset. Something about what had just happened wasn’t fair to her mind, and it was going badly. Trust in my DMing was being lost. Time for the back-pocket rule.

“OK, Kiddo. No matter what L.M. does, you would still have to roll those dice and sit by the results. So, let’s look at what happened. This isn’t a great outcome– you got Something Good, and a lot of 1’s and 2’s. So, think for a few minutes. All that matters to the outcome is that L.M. is going to help her next team mate– probably Scrappy Doo– but she is otherwise out of the race. How do you want her to be out of the race?”

We went back and forth. I suggested a bunch of non-death ways for L.M. to be out– including the idea that her power armor jets power up and she goes so fast she can’t turn around and come back to the race in time.

In the end, she decided that L.M. would slip out of her power armor and fly up into a tree, disqualifying herself, but being available as a “swing” to boost the next contestant in the race. L.M. survives the obstacle course (which is good, because I’m going to bring her back next week as the spokesman for this feral colony).

Scrappy Doo, meanwhile, was taken out when he was revealed as a meddling kid (I think?)

In the final die roll of the night, the race is heading for the finish line. Everyone is down except for Kiddo’s last character, a male dragon named Pain. Pain casts some special portal magic in front of the Gloop Gloops to make them run into a portal and out, then straight back into the first portal. I call it the Gloop Gloop Endless Loop and it’s the best thing of the night.

Unfortunately, it also takes out Pain’s last hit point. At this time, we’re ready to wind down, and Kiddo is having a hard time losing in the story. The players didn’t win, but neither did the Gloop Gloops. More importantly, I want to tie this story back to our big dragons. So I steal my earlier idea.

“The portal magic goes awry, and Pain is suddenly super-sonic– he’s so fast, and he can’t stop moving. He darts all the way around the world in a single, unbroken line. His race attracts Lydia’s dragon magic– in fact, it’s the homing beacon she follows on her quest–”

“Who’s Lydia?”

I point to Mom. “Lydia is your mom’s character, remember? We’re back to the big dragons now.”

“Oh.”

I describe how, back with Samera, Lydia, Trogdor, Samsmelt, and the dozen ferals from the cave, the party is gliding down into this forest clearing, where they see this bizarre scene, with multiple stone-shaped feral dragons, and a bunch of obstacles, a random crocodile or two, and a couple of portals with an endlessly looping relay team of dragons. The skeleton is nowhere in sight, which, as Trogdor dourly points out, is definitely not good.

SCAN0461
The scene upon arrival of Samera, Trogdor, Lydia, and Samsmelt.

In the end, 12 dragons from the players were turned to stone, not counting the Gloop Gloops who were almost certainly equally affected during this race. 1 dragon disappeared, perhaps becoming a pile of tires. 1 dragon is hanging out above the crocodile-infested river. And 1 dragon went on a supersonic trip around the world, catching the quest spell of a much larger dragon and her clutch of cave ferals.

Next session is going to be an interesting journey, indeed!

Epyllion, Session 4: Feral Dragons!

Following a recap of our current situation (the dragons have parted ways with Samsmelt, none too amicably, and are now heading for the Rift near Dragonville, where they believe the Chalice of Angels must be.

2014-11-02 19.34.53We have rewritten the Seer’s vision move so that, on a 10+, Kiddo tells the DM about her vision, and I get to ask 3 questions about it. She rolls and 11 and describes a forest (“Not the Forest of Men– one we don’t know”) with a bunch of baby dragons, who all breathe blue flames instead of regular orange ones. Mom presses her to explain how they are tied to the Darkness, but I insist that isn’t required– the visions are always tied to the Darkness, and sometimes the Seer doesn’t know how. Regardless, Kiddo claims that “it’s dark out, but there’s a full moon.” (This entire group of dragons is based on a children’s toy that Kiddo recently acquired.)

  • Why are they awake? Because they’re nocturnal! (Yes, the 8 year old said nocturnal…. this kid knows her vocabulary!)
  • Which House are they from? They aren’t from a dragon House.
  • (Trying to push the narrative in a particular direction) Why is there the skeleton of a dragon nearby? There isn’t! I nod and accept this– I’ve offered a plot device, but it’s been rejected. Kiddo has narrative control right now.

I also make a couple of physical notes, based on the toy: they are deceptively cute, and their eyes can pop outwards.

The dragons are about to explore the Rift when Samera pulls them up short to talk about the vision she’s had. She doesn’t know if it’s a pressing danger or not. She tells Trogdor and Lydia about the vision.

Trogdor thinks about this, and decides that he’s read about the Feral Dragons of Forestonia in his books. They’re known for their blue flames, and are creatures of deep dark evil, who study petrification magic!

“Wait– were there any skeletons nearby?”

“No….”

“Huh. Well, that’s not good….” He trails off, leaving it to everyone’s imagination what could possibly be going on when “no skeletons” is a bad thing.

Dad winks at me and Mom over the table. Dad is also a GM. Mom rolls her eyes and mutters that we shouldn’t have two GMs at the table– it’s hazardous to the health of our characters.

Meanwhile, back at the Rift, the dragons make a plan for entering the Rift to find the Chalice. Trogdor decides to cast a storm spell to empty the sea around the Rift of the water so they can go in without drowning. He rolls a 7 and loses control of the spell, but it is extremely powerful.

The vortex that is created is enormous and clears the Rift, but does so by lifting a wall of wind and water in a tremendous whirpool/hurricane over the Rift. The dragons attempt to fly into it– Lydia makes it through to the calm eye of the storm, but Samera is thrown out of the storm and against the nearby cliffs of Dragonville (6 on “act despite danger”). Trogdor careens out of the storm to find Samera, but he’s lost his glasses and almost doesn’t see the rocks ahead. Kiddo narrates throwing him her reading glasses, but those plop into the water, and Trogdor crashes into the rock, taking 1 Harm!

I have “taken the gloves off” in this session, and am ratcheting up some of the difficult choices.

I put the spotlight on Trogdor and Samera for a bit, while the two of them plan how to get back to the Rift while racing Samsmelt to the Chalice. They decide that Trogdor will stand by and distract Samsmelt if or when he comes by. I mean, he’s bound to come by, right? There’s a huge storm half a mile off the coast, here. Anyone not investigating is just not paying attention.

Spoiler: Samsmelt is not going to come.

We cut back to Lydia, who has arrived in the Rift. It’s dark, so she puffs out a flame to quickly see around her. A dozen pairs of eyes stare back, and there are a dozen answering puffs of blue flame in the darkness– ferals!

Lydia immediately uses Stone Moon magic to protect herself from petrification! She doesn’t have strong control over the magic, though, so her scales now ripple with blue flames! The flames give off light, though, and the feral dragons, who are also quite small, oooh and ahhh at her. They do not speak normal Draconic, though, and so she uses Spirit magic to grow an extra voice box so she can speak their tongue.

What she hears from them is strange and disturbing. They hail her as their Queen, and welcome her to their lair. She asks about the chalice. “What’s a chalice?” She talks to them about dragons. “What’s a dragon?”

These ferals have been isolated for a long, long time. They do not even know what they are. If they are tied to the Darkness, it is in the form of ignorance. Lydia heads further into the Rift, a dozen feral dragons following her.

Back at Dragonville, Samera takes her leave from Trogdor and dives into the vortex. She lands in the Rift and is met by a small group of ferals. She leaps up and slams down on one, piercing it with her horn and knocking it out cold. The other two are frightened and impressed. One slashes her with its tail, a brand that represents a debt she owes it (although the players aren’t aware of it, that one is among the eldest of the ferals, and the brand is a form of wergild for attacking his friend.) Samera does similar Spirit magic, and ends up with poor control over the language.

I use this opportunity to invite Kiddo to add a role-playing flourish to her game. “You have poor control over this language. So something about it makes it hard for you to pronounce. Think of an accent or way of speaking that works, ok?”

She nods and decides that, in Feral, she stutters. As a former stutterer, I’m a little taken aback by this, but she’s doing it well and without mocking.

She speaks haltingly with the ferals and comes to terms with them, eventually using song to soothe their ruffled scales. Side note: Kiddo has a wonderful voice.

Samera heads into the Rift, two ferals in tow.

We cut over to Trogdor, who has been lounging, with a teacup in claw, waiting for Samsmelt to show up. He now spots a pile of dug-up rock some ways off, and dashes out his tea to investigate. There, he finds a hole, dug into the earth. Samsmelt has apparently been hard at work, digging to find the Chalice. Trogdor chuckles to himself, and follows the dragon hole.

He follows this burrowed tunnel deep and down until he comes to what appears to be a softly caved-in section. He digs further.

Lydia, meanwhile, has been led into cavern containing a large hoard of treasure! An enormous pile of gold, larger than herself, sits in the middle of the room! Lydia glances around, looking for the Chalice. “Okay, where’s the Chalice?” she asks, but of course these ferals don’t even know what a chalice is!

Samera arrives shortly after, singing.

Trogdor breaks through the ceiling, but is not spotted by the ferals or his friends. From his birds-eye view, he sees the pile of gold, Lydia (wreathed in blue fire!), Samera, a heap of blue flame-spouting feral dragons…. and on the opposite side of the hoard from Lydia and Samera, just below where he’s peering out through the ceiling… a “statue” of Samsmelt.

Oh, dear.

Trogdor quietly drops down next to Samsmelt, identifying him as such. He spots a wooden case with the insignia of the chalice on it, and grabs it. He steps out to face his companions, and there’s a nerve-wracking show-down as Trogdor confronts Lydia and Samera about trucking about with ferals– who are known to be associated with the Darkness!

“They’re just misunderstood,” Lydia and Samera insist.

Meanwhile, the ferals are at full attention, their eyes bugging all the way out, because “he unstoned himself!” They have mistaken Trogdor for Samsmelt, who they thought was safely “stoned” behind the hoard.

Sorry! Bad GM! I forgot to mention that Trogdor used Spirit magic to make himself telepathic in this scene! He still can’t speak Feral, but he can telepathically talk to Lydia and Samera!

The party squabbles about this for a while, and eventually, Lydia convinces the ferals not to “stone” anyone.

Trogdor opens the case and discovers that the chalice is gone! In its place is a map to a chain of islands not previously known to Dragonia! Perhaps the ferals are from there?

Samera is the only one in the party who still has the type of Moon magic required to un-petrify someone, so she uses it on Samsmelt. Unfortunately, her spells go awry and she is half petrified herself, moving slowly as her wings and body become more rigid.

Lydia makes a vow to help the ferals be reunited with their forest-dwelling clan, and is imbued with an unerring sense of direction towards the forest-dwelling ferals.

Eventually, the dragons dig their way back out, but a cave-in happens just as they escape, trapping three of the ferals behind! Their piteous cries of “Our queen! Save yourself!” will haunt Lydia forever, but there is hope that perhaps they made it out through the Rift instead.

The four dragons and 11 ferals fly off, to find the forest ferals. We are nowhere close to solving the mystery of the petrified ancient dragon in the sea.

Mom and Dad, you can stop reading NOW! Below this are spoiler notes!

Continue reading Epyllion, Session 4: Feral Dragons!

Epyllion, session 3

I ran Epyllion on Sunday for Dad, Mom, and Kiddo again.

Our second session of the game was over a month ago, and didn’t go so well. We had a problem with saying "no" a lot to the 8 year old, and I wasn’t super happy with the results.

For this session, we started out by me explaining that I wanted Kiddo to feel comfortable adding to the story, so we were going to rewrite the "visions" move so her dice would determine if I got to tell the vision or if she did– and in either case, the other one would be able to ask 3 questions. She agreed, rolled, and got a 9.

HEY, KIDDO’S MOM AND DAD! I KNOW YOU READ MY BLOG! SPOILERS AHEAD! GO AWAY!

Continue reading Epyllion, session 3

Epyllion, Session 2

The second Epyllion game we played (Mom, Dad, and their Kiddo) started with Kiddo’s Seer dragon, Samera, getting a vision of something related to the Darkness.

Now, this is a Seer move– it’s the move they make at the start of the session. Roll 2d6 plus relevant stat. On a 7-9, they get a vision. On a 10+, they can ask questions about the vision.

I’m going to suggest a revision to this move. While it might work for less freeform groups, it locked me in as a DM and locked Kiddo in as a player.

Kiddo is 8 years old and has an imagination that is better than any of the adults at the table. Throughout the evening, she wanted to add to the vision, change details, etc. But the move doesn’t say she can do that, and her Mom kept trying to reign her in.

I was kind of trying to push her to stick to the bargain implicit in the move– she made the move, and as a result, she takes the vision as it was presented to her. But there were two problems with that. First: I hadn’t made that bargain clear to her at the outset. And second, if the vision couldn’t be the place where she could add to and change the fiction, she needed other points where she could do that.

In the previous session, her point of narrative control was the bridge she created with her moon magic– she was able to describe the bridge and put a life stone into it and everything.

One of the principles of Dungeon World– perhaps the main one, in fact– is "play to find out." Because we had this vision to start with, there was less room to play to find out.

Here’s what we’re going to try next time:

Roll+Charm. On a 7-9, the GM tells you a vision of the Darkness. Tell the GM one detail that you notice in the vision. On a 10+, you describe the vision, and the GM tells you one detail that you notice.

I think this will give her more narrative control in general, while still giving me places to attach "plot" to the vision.

The other thing I need to do is shut down any "no" at the table, and make sure to enable the players to use their opportunities for taking narrative control, whenever possible.

Ah, anyway, short plot description: we went in search of information at the Great Library about an ancient dragon that may have been turned to stone. On the way, there’s an island where the Chalice of Angels may be. And ran into an arrogant, slightly older dragon who flirted with Lydia the Warrior. Made a bargain with him to look for the chalice, though it’s possible they won’t keep that bargain.

Epyllion: Friendship is Magic, Dragon Edition

Last night, I ran Epyllion, a powered-by-the-apocalypse game in which you play a juvenile dragon adventuring in Dragonia, to find and stop the Darkness. I played with a married couple of friends of mine (long-time D&D players), and their 8 year old daughter (this is her first RPG). In real life, their daughter is a dragon currently polymorphed into a little girl, so this was a perfect way for her to revisit her natural form for a while.

(What?!? I’m not going to tell her otherwise, people! You try telling a dragon she’s not a dragon and see where it gets you! No thanks– I am soft and go well with ketchup!)

It’s a fairly simple premise with some interesting rules mechanics that really support cooperative play. It’s currently in its “drake edition” (beta playtesting), so the book isn’t really complete yet.

This is my writeup of our adventures, plus some playtester and “meta” notes, which I’ll demarcate in purple italic text. I’m going to call the players Mom, Dad, and Kiddo here, to protect their privacy. Character names will remain the same.

Continue reading Epyllion: Friendship is Magic, Dragon Edition

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