Author Topic: Two-player Freebooting Venus  (Read 1498 times)

plausiblefabulist

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Two-player Freebooting Venus
« on: January 03, 2016, 02:58:08 PM »
Much of my available roleplaying time is one-on-one with my 12 year old son. Murderous Ghosts is a little too dark for me to try with him, and most of the great storygames, like Fiasco and all the AW hacks I've seen, are so driven by PC relationships and multiple-person collaboration that they don't work so well one-on-one.

Freebooting Venus looks like an excellent candidate! Reading through the rules, the only thing that seems to absolutely demand a multi-player party is the list of questions in the opening situation, and I guess those could be adapted ("why are you taking this personally?")

Anyone have any tips, experiences, or recommendations for FV with a single player and GM?


lumpley

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Re: Two-player Freebooting Venus
« Reply #1 on: January 05, 2016, 01:03:47 PM »
I don't have any tips or experience, but I think you're right that it could work well! If you give it a try, let me know how it goes.

-Vincent

plausiblefabulist

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Re: Two-player Freebooting Venus
« Reply #2 on: January 10, 2016, 04:08:11 AM »
Well, we played essentially one full session (in two pieces due to interruption) of two-player Hand to Mouth in the City of Nephthys. Tried to start a second session and ran out of steam, for reasons I'll try to get at.

Lasez, down on his luck, was once a scholar -- and, perhaps later or perhaps earlier, someone who lived by sneaking around. Could he just get enough concentration, patience, and tools, he'd be adept again at ideology, philosophy, and science, and at stealth. -1 Bold, +2 Patient, +2 Quick and +1 Violent. He lives in the labor gang barracks of the Princess of Nephthys, bunking below a hardworking, sober, desperately unlucky fellow named Tam. The barracks are distinctly less safe since soulless slaves of a sorcerous cult started showing up, but Lasez has avoided them mostly so far.

In the labor gang barracks you can break and haul rocks every day, but there's no actual pay in that, just thin soup and a cot, so it's generally better to linger at the fringes in the hope someone will drive by and scoop you up as spare unskilled labor. A pudgy, officious character in black shows up in a chariot this morning and orders Lasez in; he takes him to a quarry on the outskirts of town. It's not explained to Lasez that this quarry is claimed by a person of tertiary descent from one of the city's princely families, nor that there might be a bonus of 1 pay for diligence, nor that a different prince claims the same quarry and has sent his meddlesome warrior-slave to interfere; it's only explained that if he can climb down into the treacherous crevasse with a rucksack and bring up three times his own weight in rosy pink stone by sundown, he'll be paid.

We found ourselves fighting the rules quite a bit, trying to decide what to roll at times when it felt that something ought to be rolled; we end up resorting to saves a lot of the time, but it felt a bit arbitrary deciding which stat to save on -- the same thing that always bothered me about DW's Defy Danger. We decided the treacherous climb required a save on Patience (we could have regarded the descent as "intruding somewhere", but the emphasis was on avoiding a fall, not detection). At one point Lasez did fall, and it wasn't clear what to do about that; I decided just do deal him 1 Harm and let him pick his own bad experience ("I was thrown sprawling"), but this felt a bit thin compared to the combat moves -- 1 Harm felt arbitrary (why 1 and not 3?) and the ability to pick your bad experience and then Recover to erase it made falling off the quarry wall mechanically underwhelming (but it hardly made sense to treat it as combat between Lasez and gravity and roll on Violent, either). It occurs to me that I could have required a second save to see who got to choose the bad experience...

Once Lasez began to mine the stone, he heard the meddlesome warrior-slave approaching, splashing through the echoing, twisty narrows between the canyon walls, and looked for a place to hide (Size Someone Up, with the canyon wall as the "someone", felt like a bit of a stretch but ok). He squeezed into a crack in the wall, pulling his bag of stones behind him. (Hiding from someone and sneaking away from someone undetected didn't feel like perfect matches for "intrude somewhere" -- in particular, they feel the opposite of Bold; if you're willingly going somewhere you shouldn't, sure, that's Bold of you, but if through no fault of your own you're pursued and want only to make yourself as small and unnoticed as possible and evade detection, Bold seems an odd thing to roll. I guess it could have been a save on... Quick?). The bag got stuck, and he realized that the crack went deep into the rock, and that he wasn't alone in there -- pretty soon he felt the strange-smelling breath, in the pitch blackness, of a Milk Salamander.

We really wanted there to be some way to engage the dice to see if he recognized the Milk Salamander -- for there to be a way to make his knowledge of the world something at stake in a roll. I guess he could have sized it up, but the question was more "do I recognize that smell?" I just ended up telling him he did, but it's notable that there are no "intel" basic moves for finding out information in general -- no Spout Lore, no open your brain, no Gaze into the Abyss. (I love "open your brain" in AW so much because "wanting to know" is such a great temptation, and the move is always win-win: it barfs forth apocalyptica on a hit and creates eerie awful story-advancing problems on a miss). Freebooting Venus trades in exotica and there's plenty of offers of mystery in the flavor -- sorcerous cult? traitorious overseer? friend possibly worthy of trust? wizards in their seclusia? -- but there's no mechanical way to bring that mystery up against the dice, pitting knowledge against danger.

Eventually Lasez started fighting the salamander. Monster stats for fighting were a little hard to understand -- I didn't realize I should add Bonus to Spend to the spend produced by the +Violent roll -- with the result that, spending all his hold on armor, Lasez was able to avoid taking any Harm at all. He did 1 Harm to the salamander, annoying it.

Lasez then bust out of the crack in the wall and met the meddlesome warrior-slave. He sized him up and figured out how to get the warrior-slave fighting the salamander so that Lasez could sneak away (another Intrude Somewhere). Then he climbed up the wall to dump a load of stone and went to mine elsewhere. When the warrior-slave eventually came looking for him, he managed to hide.

Mining the pink stone at times required a save on Quick (when Lasez was trying to do it in a hurry and beat the setting sun) and at times on Patient (when he was trying to avoid detection from the warrior-slave).

Lasez ended up the day with two pay and spent it buying an ideological tome from a junk-seller's cart near the barracks -- jammed in between a cage of edible lizards, some farm tools and a stained and ripped embroidered silk pillow, it reminded him keenly of his past life as a student, and made him willing to take on 1 Debt. He was able to mark quite a few experiences: he faced a monster (the salamander), attacked someone more powerful (the salamander), went into danger knowing the risk, and trusted someone (his employer) who lived up to his trust.

The rentpunk aspect of City of Nephthys feels fun, but it also feels that it will take forever to transition to FV proper at this rate. It sort of feels like the metagame of cashing in pay and figuring out how to level up is fun but will happen at too infrequent intervals -- the absolute minimum time that would be required for Lasez to move to better lodgings, carrying 3 Debt, would be three more sessions (rolling 3,3,5) and there's only roughly a 1% chance of that. It seems more likely to take 7-10 sessions to transition out of HtMitCoN.

Upon sitting down to the second session and rolling up a new job (because wandering around in the quarry a second time didn't seem that promising), I found my enthusiasm flagging & decided I was approaching this game the wrong way. I'd been playing it no-prep, like Apocalypse World's first session, just follow the character and the prompts and see what happens. But the game actually does point to more prep -- it doesn't say to pull the Dirty Trick all the time, only when your prep runs out. So I'm thinking I should try and see if it works better if I come up with a richer environment, with more story hooks, in advance. I also think that the rentpunk aspect of City of Nephthys may be wearing thin and fast-forwarding to FV proper might give the character richer options. Finally, I think I'm struggling with the (apparently more abstract?) "the players make moves when they want" approach as opposed to AW's "the fiction triggers moves". I don't really get the difference, and I'm missing the very clear AW approach of "narrate up until a player roll is triggered, then use its result as a springboard for the next chunk of story".

Paul T.

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Re: Two-player Freebooting Venus
« Reply #3 on: January 10, 2016, 07:43:42 PM »
A lot of these issues and complaints make sense to me; I'll be reading along to find out the answers. Thanks for the writeup!

lumpley

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Re: Two-player Freebooting Venus
« Reply #4 on: February 17, 2016, 07:16:22 PM »
The fact is, playing Hand to Mouth in the City of Nephthys with a couple of teenagers completely soured the game for me too. I'm playing straight-up Freebooting Venus now, with adults, and it's better, but I'm still not happy. We'll see what happens.

-Vincent