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Subject: Let's Read Swords Without Master! rss

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Alex Nguyen
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INTRO
In this thread, I'll be taking Swords Without Master, reading it cover-to-cover*, and posting my thoughts.

You can think of what follows as a long, rambly review. Anyone who wants to comment, ask questions, or generally kibbitz, please jump in! If you have the book* yourself, then follow along and share your thoughts!

Much like how Swords Without Master is inspired directly by Swords & Sorcery, this is inspired directly by Let's read Mouse Guard! Check out the Master List of "Let's Read" Threads for the full list.

Welcome to Let's Read Swords Without Master; feel free to subscribe and follow along.
Opposing viewpoints not only welcome but appreciated!

* There's no actual cover/book since this is a game found within Volume 1, Issue 3 of the Worlds Without Master E-Zine.
§ I hope I don't screw up.
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LET'S START
Firstly this is a leisurely 32-pages! But it's dense with ideas that should birth much discussion, or at least impart some wisdom on how we like or don't like to play our games.

Secondly it might be worth mentioning this is a no-prep game; those familiar with such things know what's implied and what to expect.

When I hear a game is no-prep I feel like one or more of the following is likely accurate:
* The whole table has authority over the story right off the bat.
* Character creation is super-light.
* There's still room for the GM to use existing plot-points/maps, or to come up with stuff ahead of time. See John Arcadian's Islands [Unframed: The Art of Improvisation, 21] or Apocalypse World's Fronts.


SWORDS WITHOUT MASTER
A game by Epidiah Ravachol
Illustrated by Storn Cook, Ed Heil, & Chris L. Kimball
Quote:
We begin with examples of the types of tables that might be acceptable to play on! Awesome.

A mahogany table adorned with thick, greasy candles and five
human skulls.

Failing that, a stout oaken table near
a glowing hearth, replete with ale-filled steins and a
succulent roast.

Or, if you prefer, a tabletop chipped
whole from a single obsidian stone, placed on the
back of a coiled serpent of silver in a room high in a
lonely tower shrouded in a prismatic fog.


Page 1 starts as we'd expect: a call to gather the usual stuff. Players, pencils, dice, etc. Immediately the reader is fixed with the tone of the material (see sidebar).

Already my mind is racing back to images from reading sword & sorcery novels from years past! Very exciting.

Here we also learn that the GM role is called the "Overplayer" and the players are "Rogues". Fine with me.

At first glance:
* I see Overplayer and I read on. No preconceptions. It's just another name for gamemaster, however;
* I see Rogue and I'm thinking, "is this going to be like Blades in the Dark and we're thieves running heists?" Don't worry fellow reader, a Rogue in this context is not a D&D Thief. We'll find out more about this later.


The art on this page gives us a hint of the mechanics. There are (suitably fantasy looking) people with dice: a woman with a light die, and a gentleman holding a dark die. The game does indeed depend on 2 dice, as we'll find out soon enough.

OBJECTIVE
We're told that we'll be telling a tale of sword & sorcery. What a surprise. The knee-jerk reaction here would be to say, "well d'uh" and move on, but it might be nice to pause to make sure everyone kinda knows about the subgenre of Sword and Sorcery and how it differs from High Fantasy for example.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sword_and_sorcery

What does no-prep imply to you?
Do you fall into the camp of folks who gets annoyed at having to call themselves something other than DM/GM?
Other thoughts so far?
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USP45 wrote:
What does no-prep imply to you?


Someone should ideally be familiar with the rules, but other than that there is no time needed to get ready for the game.

Quote:
Do you fall into the camp of folks who gets annoyed at having to call themselves something other than DM/GM?


I think it's funny, although if someone really insisted on it, it would be annoying.

Quote:
Other thoughts so far?


I am skeptical of such a short game.
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USP45 wrote:

What does no-prep imply to you?
Do you fall into the camp of folks who gets annoyed at having to call themselves something other than DM/GM?
Other thoughts so far?

No-prep means no one has to do anything before play except at least one person read the rules thoroughly.

I could care less what you call me, and in fact it can be helpful to use a different term if the powers/role is non-traditional (as it is in Swords).

I have played this game several times (including once with Epidiah himself as Overplayer) and enjoyed it tremendously, so I'm holding my thoughts for now.
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USP45 wrote:
What does no-prep imply to you?


Generally I think it implies a greater emphasis on player agency and shared world building. But it doesn't always have to be the case - Mutant: Year Zero is a zero prep game, but comes with enough charts to allow the GM to create a zone sector on the fly.

Quote:
Do you fall into the camp of folks who gets annoyed at having to call themselves something other than DM/GM?


I quite enjoy it!

Quote:
Other thoughts so far?


I read through SWM ages ago but have kind of forgot most of the details. It's going to be nice going through it again with some added discussions. Contrary to Dysjunct I love short games! If you can't compress your game down to 30 pages there's a decent chance it's too long.
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I'm indirectly answering the questions: I think that these Let's Read series are great, in part, because people are covering a lot of games that I am extremely unlikely to run or play. Short games, No-prep, and cute GM names are some of the things that often indicate that to me.

But it's very interesting seeing what people have to say about them, and I really appreciate the effort and discussion.
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OVERVIEW
Page 2 begins the Overview --> a summary of how everything plays out in the 2-3 hours of real-time game-play that’s an average session (that’s not actually mentioned here; I read it online somewhere).

We start every session with a die roll that determines the Tone for a while. It constrains our story telling while tugging at our creativity.

Quote:
Whether the game begins on blood-caked desert sands while your rogues desperately push back against a band of screaming devils or under the Aurora Borealis as your rogues slip silently from chill waters to board a slumbering longboat depends upon that first roll and the tone it dictates.



I don't know much about — and didn't hang around — the Forge back in the day (I hear reading some of the archives can be enlightening even though there seems to be at least 1 school of opinion of gamers who say, "it's all pretentious garbage!"); I've gotta think that the ghosts of conversations at the Forge about why we game and how to get to that sweet spot haunt this section of Swords Without Master. Right off the bat the idea of being told what Tone to start talking in really appeals to me (as an Overmaster or Rogue). It’s the very first step we take on the journey from differentiating an RPG from free-form.

More about Tone later.

PHASES
If the Tones are the soul of Swords Without Master (SWM from here on out), then the Phases are the beating heart of the game. We will always be living in one of three phases:

* The Perilous Phase, wherein the rogues’ lives are in danger.
* The Discovery Phase, wherein in the world is seen through the eyes and experiences of the rogues.
* The Rogues’ Phase, wherein the rogues are unleashed to do what they do best.

There isn’t an order to these. And you might follow one with the exact same phase after.

THREADS
Every once in a while, the game taps us on the shoulder and says let’s do some stuff that will tie the tale together. In the heat of the moment we create threads:

* The Moral, wherein the rogues suffer the unintended consequences of their actions.
* The Mystery, wherein the unknown briefly reveals itself.
* Motifs, wherein the moments that most exemplify the glory of sword and sorcery are recorded.

The OVERVIEW continues by telling us how the end will work: we’re still living in Tones and Phases, but the Threads start tying everything together to bring the story to an end organically using mechanics!

... and that's pretty neat if you think about it. Writing-theory/rules tell us stuff like (this is off the top of my head and simplified so correct me please!): "write in 3 Acts" and "don't introduce new stuff past the half-way point". But how do you do that in the heat of the moment in a NO-PREP game? This is how! (Heck, even HEAVY-PREP sessions miss the mark on this often.)



ROGUE CREATION PART I of IV
Rogues, Heroes, Eidolons & Simulacra

Also on Page 2 is the first piece of character creation. It's set aside in a large upper side-bar that's consistent in layout across the entire game. When we revisit this for reference we can follow the layout trail to read that stuff in order all at once if we prefer. On an initial read though, I like the pacing of splitting up that stuff, while reading about other mechanics.

This is a nice compromise for peeps like Kevin who like Character Creation right away, and peeps like me who don’t mind getting it in smaller bite-sized chunks.

We need to know what the Rogue role means and this is where we find out.

Quote:
The rogues are the heroes of our stories. They are heroes and rogues in the classic sense. Heroes in that they are able to perform mighty deeds beyond the capabilities of normal man. Rogues in the sense that they own no land and are not clearly employed in any respectable sense.

In a world where everyone is beholden to someone else—even the thieves to their guildmaster and the king to his subjects—the rogues stand free of such shackles. They live outside the master-slave relationship that is inescapable in the normal social order. This makes them dangerous, intriguing, seductive, and perhaps very useful.



We’re telling a story around heroes (as opposed to the average Joe peasant). Check.

The term Rogue isn’t referring to the High Fantasy archetype Thief. Got it.

In addition, there’s no morale compass attached to the title. A savior comes in many forms. Or maybe the selfish mercenary is exactly what she seems at face value. You will decide (or find out in play).

So how do you create a “Rogue”? Just say a thing and you’re done!

Specifically: an eidolon or simulacrum might be a song, book, painting, or whatever. It has to be of our world, and it has to imply a lot about what you want to play.

On eidolons and simulacrum

Simulacrum
noun
→ an image or representation of someone or something

Eidolon
noun
→ an ideal or idealized figure

This is really pretty neat. Similar to Risus clichés that depend on our collective knowledge of what the word "Spy" or "Wizard" implies for skills and such (Ghostly Pirate Wizard implies so much that we don't have to say out loud or write down ahead of time), SWM depends entirely on Eidolons (or Simulacra) for character creation. You name a thing (a picture, a poem, etc.) and we all at the table know most everything that's implied for your character at a glance! Easy peasy.

Want to play a character that’s similar to Conan the Barbarian? I remember spending a bunch of time as a kid trying to stat out a Conan-ish character with whatever game I was playing at the time (likely AD&D). It was admittedly fun, but we never finished because we could never agree on different facets of the game mechanics not really jiving with the character concept. In SWM, just say “Conan.” Done! Everyone knows what you’re talking about (obviously, you want to play a late-night talk show host).


I’m interjecting my opinion in snippets all over the place. Every once in a while though I’ll ramble a little longer. Does anyone mind if I use this swanky SWM coffee mug to denote when I'm giving an extended opinion? Yes/No? Annoying? Also, I don’t have a “happy” mug or a “sad” mug so it won't really be any reliable indicator of mood.

Oh yeah → I should have mentioned this disclaimer up front! I have never played Swords Without Master. I have never read through it entirely. This is a real read-through!

P.S. Are we really only still on Page 2?! I told you this was chock full of dense goodness.

What are your first impressions so far?

It might not be fair to ask this yet, because we have no details. We only have vague notions of ideas on what will happen when play begins.

Will these ideas ascend a great and wending walkway into glorious victory as we embrace and love them? Will we rage against them and impale them upon the parapets of a lost castle in the mists? Or worst of all, will they fade away from memory as we read on - the details not even a shadow of their potential?
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It all sounds really cool. Now I want to see how it does it!
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ALL THAT DESERVES A NAME
Rogue Creation Part II of IV

I lied last time, when I said all you have to do during character creation is say a thing. Your Rogue needs a name after all!

Now is the chance to name some other things as well: weapons, an enemy, a spell, etc. The list might ebb and flow as we go along and there are some rules associated with that, dependent on Phases of the game (which we’ll get to soon enough).

BONES AND TONES
The two tones we talked about earlier are:
1 Glum
1 Jovial

Before we’re even told what to do with the tones we can kinda guess/surmise. Heck we at least know the dictionary definition of the words.

We’ll be playing with two dice so agree with everyone before beginning which go with what. Black and white are perfectly fine but a cold blue and warm orange might suit your tastes.

High roll is the Tone.

Depending on who rolled
Overplayer → the result is the Overtone; this defines the Tone for the Overplayer as well as anyone else who has yet to roll.
Rogue player → the resulting Tone is your own.

Once someone has rolled the dice it’s like you have the talking stick! You have the floor sir/madam.

Hmm, not what we might have expected
at first glance…
Quote:
Your Glum may gleam like the starry night and
your Jovial may be the dark crimson of freshly spilt blood.

Earlier I mentioned dictionary definitions; forget that. Narrating in Tones to me is shaping up to be one of the central joys of this game. It’s “an exercise in personal interpretation.” It might be as easy as Glum’s quiet to Jovial’s loud. Gentle weeping vs. open sobbing. A silent desert caravan passing in the night vs. elephant-drawn cargo wagons on a busy trade street.

The examples in the “Sensual Feast” sidebar give an excellent taste. It's the gray-green sky just before a storm vs. sun-drenched plains.

The takeaway here is probably to not strictly interpret Glum and Jovial; don’t over-think it. Let your creativity go free and run with the first thing that comes to mind. It’s pretty obvious that whispers from forgotten languages lives in the Glum column while a song sung in a major key goes in the Jovial column.

One thing to remember: if the Rogue player’s Tone does not match the Overtone, the easiest move is to start off narrating in the Overtone and then show everyone how at odds you are with the moment. The silence in the eye of a hurricane for example.


Ties, Stymies, Mysteries & Escalations
What if I rolled a tie? Each Phase handles this a little differently but basically:

The Overtone flips
Everyone’s tone shifts to this new one

If it’s a Player who rolled the tie, the Rogue is stymied; the Player has the privilege of narrating what happened whether it’s a temporary setback or outright failure. The scene escalates!

If the tie is a pair of ones, twos, or threes then the stymie is a Mystery and we don’t yet know why the Rogue was thwarted in whatever was trying to be accomplished. The reason might simply be unknown or of unnatural origin. We’ll talk more about this later when we delve into Threads (we’re starting to get a taste of how things come together).

If the Overplayer rolled the tie, don’t worry about it. No threads, stymies, etc.

Speaking of Phases, that’s next up!


Let’s exercise! Give your own example(s) of Glum and Jovial.
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USP45 wrote:
...

What does no-prep imply to you?
Do you fall into the camp of folks who gets annoyed at having to call themselves something other than DM/GM?
Other thoughts so far?


Some games are oddly serious about that first point. Not just "no prep needed," but "DON'T PREP." Which is odd and nearly impossible... before and between sessions of anything, I'll be musing over ideas even if I'm not committed to any of them. What I would "prep" is impressions - like the "Three dozen..." miscellanies also appearing in WWM.

A GM by any other name would smell as funky. But like you mentioned, it carries the tone. It also is simple in establishing that player as having a slightly elevated position without imparting "master" status.

Quote:
What are your opinions so far? (through page 2)

Interspersing character creation alongside the rules you'll be interacting with is an excellent tactic. More games, especially Beginner sets and Quickstarts should incorporate.
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Holy crap. Meanwhile over on Twitter.

Uncle Eppy (a.k.a @Epidiah, the Dread/Jenga guy, author of this game and Overeditor of Worlds Without Master) has been doing his own SWM read-through with intimate designer thoughts.

I'm kind of a Twitter newb but here's the deets:

His call-sign
@epidiah

The hash-tag
#SeptSwords

Some combination of search/filter on the above (or just see my link above) should reveal a treasure trove of pure awesome.

Thanks to fellow internet Rogue, Eric Farmer for nodding in this direction.

If you know how to get around on Twitter, let us know a good way to ingest this haha. I can sort of read along from the beginning Sept 1 but every once in awhile a click here and there reveals even more in the "thread" and then I'm lost down a rabbit hole of clicks.

Damn, I dunno if I should keep reading or not. It might color my commentary here.
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USP45 wrote:
Damn, I dunno if I should keep reading or not. It might color my commentary here.


Please wait until you're done here if you can.
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FEATS HEROIC
Rogue Creation Part III of IV
You have an eidolon or simulacrum to imply your character concept. And you’ve named stuff. Next up: acquire a get out of jail free card!

Imagine a dire situation.

Perhaps a phalanx of spearmen has you cornered in a narrow mountain pass. Or a priest of a long-forgotten god has just whispered your name to a hunting beast. Or a rockslide threatens to entomb you in a desert cave.

How would your Rogue deal with this? Write these down as “Feats Heroic”, one for your Jovial nature and one for your Glum nature.

One time in the game after casting the dice, you may cross out one of these Feat thereby invoking it. Ignore the result of the dice and everything that goes with it (e.g. tone change, threads created). Continue your narration IN THE TONE OF YOUR FEAT, incorporating it into the story. That’s your get out of jail free moment.


I’m not sure how often these come up in actual play (having not actually played). Also, at this point in the read-through I don’t know what threads are yet to know why I’d want to avoid creating them! I think threads are a good thing (for a player telling a story); maybe they’re not always a good thing for the Rogues themselves…


THE PHASES
(Rules of Order… wherein we go through the etiquette of playing. We’ll meet the actual Phases next time.)

Earlier (in the overview) we mentioned that if the Tones are the soul of SWM, then the Phases are the beating heart of the game.

1. Roll for the Overtone. Remember that everyone is in Glum or Jovial. Sometimes a Rogue might be in opposition or discord to the Overtone. And if someone’s roll results in a tie, the Overtone flips. “After making this roll, leave the dice upon the table. Do not pick them up until the Thunder roars.” I dunno what the Thunder is but I like the sound of it!

2. Choose the Phase. SWM (at first glance) probably positions the Overplayer and the Rogues on relatively even footing if we’re to believe that it’s a no-prep / storytelling game. This is one area where the Overplayer has full privilege though. Whenever it’s time to choose a Phase, the Overplayer gets to decide.

If in doubt:



3. Set the Scene. This is straight-up something you’ve done hundreds of times before as a DM in another game. BUT do it while hitting the Overtone. This is the who, what, why, and where part. As you can probably tell by now it’s okay to go overboard with your Sword and Sorcery dialect at this point.

4. Let Peal the Thunder. Yay it’s the thunder part. Overplayer picks up the dice; that can’t be good.

Quote:
The Thunder is some threat in the near distance that the rogues may or may not have to contend with. This could be something specific, like a dust cloud on the horizon that denotes a horde of foes riding hard to meet the rogues in battle; or it could be something vague but foreboding, such as the sound of scratching in the walls. The lives led by rogues are dangerous lives. So there is a Thunder in each one of the basic phases—a constant reminder that a threat awaits them at every turn.



It’s fun in RPGs to crank up the heat, but it’s not always super fun if it’s always happening. Pealing Thunder to me seems like a great middle ground. It reminds us that heat exists to crank up. It makes us think it up, and because we did it’s a tangible thing that exists in our craw ready to be unleashed, and yet we’re free to enjoy it as only another fancy set piece if we desire. On the hand, ignore it and it’ll likely bite you. Leave the explanation for later. Go to town with your creative juices, not worrying about the details.

Things to ponder: it may be a Rogue Player who reveals the truth of the Thunder! This is not one of those “GM tries really hard to create elaborate plot and either it falls flat or players ignore” moments. This is “quick moment of creativity” owned by Overplayer and Rogue alike.

Lastly, the Thunder is thunderous because the Overplayer picked up the dice and everyone knows to pay attention to something that might come back later. It is NOT the Thunder because it need be literally thunderous. We could as easily be talking about the innocent smile of a dotard (that is later revealed to be the alien mastermind) as we could be a glowing purple tower in the distance after an earth-shaking lightning strike (that is never revisited again).

5. Enter the Phase. We’ll meet the actual Phases next time. Just know that each Phase has its own rules and etiquette. Any particular Phase might last the length it takes to slit a guard’s throat, or it might last for most of a session!
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There's a couple really cool sidebars in this chapter

The Unsure Measurements of Time & Distance wrote:
Your phases need not occur in chronological order. The occasional flashbacks to explain current events and flashforwards to foreshadow inevitable dooms are welcome. More than one tale has begun with the ending and moved on tell us how our heroes got so entangled in their destiny. When setting the scenes for these phases unstuck in time, take care to also include when they occur in relation to the phases you have already played.

Within a phase, you are not moored in any particular scene. A phase—typically a Rogues’ Phase, but any phase—can carry your tale across gulfs of time and space. It may begin upon a local shore, end in a foreign desert, and cross jungle and tundra to get there. The scene set at the beginning of each phase only marks where the phase begins.

Nor must there be any distance between the one phase and the next. An entire adventure can take place high upon a hill in the time it takes for the sun to set.


This sidebar doesn’t give us anything mechanical but it does make our mouth water with anticipation as we dream about the skeletons of our stories. It’s kind of a comforting simple large piece of the puzzle. It assures us that we’ve seen this many times before, and we’ve done it many times before even if the tools we’re using in this game might be different.

Tricks of the Trade
Rogue Creation Part IV of IV

Herein lies the final part of character creation.
Each Rogue gets a Trick: a twist in the rules.

A couple example Tricks:

Locus wrote:
Write down a setting. A longboat half-submerged in a frozen bog. An ancient and slick temple hidden by a towering waterfall. Standing stones in a warm summer storm. A site of wonder, a locale familiar to the rogue, or just a place you wish to see. Before the Overplayer sets the scene on a new phase, you may demand that it takes place here.


Omen wrote:
Write down a Thunder, some ill portent or distant threat. A winged silhouette in a crimson sunset. Statues that bleed when touched. A menacing glare from a blind man. Before the Thunder is provided for a new phase, you may demand that it be this.


Talk it over with the rest of the table to ensure everyone gets a unique choice.


The Perilous Phase
Remember that we're always in one of the three phases. Here's the Perilous.

The Overplayer puts the rogues in peril while the Rogue Players pass the dice back and forth, rolling when they wish to interrupt and briefly seize control of the narration.

We've just come from Let Peal the Thunder (where the Overplayer, dice in hand, has let loose some delicious foreboding detail).

The dice are now handed to a Player and here comes the Storm! A clear and present danger. Remember that we started this whole thing by rolling an Overtone so everyone's narration should be directly colored by Jovial or Glum (unless a Trick has changed that!).

The narration of the Storm by the Overplayer (while hitting the Overtone) continues for as long as the player holds the dice. The main thing here is that the Storm escalate slowly as the story is told. There's still interaction and banter back and forth between everyone at the table. Hold on to the dice for as long as you can in anticipation of the right moment to take full control.

Until you take full control by letting the dice clatter on the table all Rogues are confined to:
Succumb—[Slipping—Struggling]—Overcome

Slipping and Struggling means the moment continues. Nothing is resolved yet. Everyone is still playing.


One of the keys to this whole thing is to understand that something is turned on its head here. The Player continues to wield story power throughout. During the Overplayer's narration of the Storm, Rogues are "Slipping and Struggling" and of course Players narrate that with little snippets and comments (how am I struggling against this threat — remember, there's no resolving yet). Then finally the dice are rolled and you expect in a trad game that the result is either success or failure and that the DM/GM will now do some stuff. But that's not the case! The dice are rolled and now the Player is in control of the story, taking it wherever they want it to go by interpreting the dice!

* Players, don't announce what you're trying to do before rolling the dice!!

* Because a player just rolled, now that Rogue might have their own Tone and should color their narration with that.

* The Player has total control over how the Rogue is dealing with the Storm and can even narrate the Storm's side of the story at this moment of reaction.

* If it's a tie (and therefore the Rogue is stymied, and there's an escalation) narrate what that means to you and the story even though you didn't announce ahead of time what you were trying to do. It doesn't have to be outright failure.

* When the player is done and picks up the dice, the Overplayer steps back in and the dance continues. (Rogues are slipping and struggling again.)

* Player hands the dice to another player… OR to the Overplayer to end the scene. Players are in control of this! Choose an interesting moment.

(The relatively long example in the game is fantastic)
My own quick bad summary:

42 Jovial Overtone is rolled.
* Large piles of treasure.
* Overplayer picks up dice indicating the Thunder (crumbling stone walls for example).
* [dice handed to one of the players]A fight! (with a Statue that has been hinted at earlier in the narration).

I should pause here and mention that the player handed the dice needed not be the one in the "center" of attention, or the one best able to deal with the threat, etc. But it IS that player who will pick the moment to take full control of the story.

* Storm narration escalates (statue does some stuff, gets more and more dangerous as the scene continues… players are injecting little snippets of what they're doing to avoid getting killed, slipping and struggling) until finally Player holding the dice roll them.

43Glum (opposite of Overtone). It's not a tie result so the player narrates full control resolving the moment being sure to hit that person's new Tone (everyone else is still Overtone). He doesn't resolve the scene however and it continues as the player picks up the dice and the Overplayer starts talking again.

At a crucial moment the player passes the dice to another player.

55Roll and a tie! Overtone flips to Glum. That player describes the Rogue trying a heroic maneuver but ends with getting knocked out cold. Dice are handed to the Overplayer ending the scene.

Drizzling wrote:
Rogue Players, should you face a Storm that is unworthy of your rogue’s attention, roll the dice and dispatch it immediately. Send a clear signal to the Overplayer that such opponents are beneath you. But do not cleave through a worthy threat so swiftly. Anything you deal with in a single roll the Overplayer will cast aside. So show your interest in a Storm by letting it rain for several rolls.

Overplayer, should a Rogue Player destroy your Storm out of hand, steel your heart and come at them from a new angle. They wipe clean a field of foot soldiers, only to see them rise again under eldritch command. The assassin so quickly cut down was mere distraction from the real foe now making off with the rogues’ hard-earned spoils. If you need inspiration, draw the Thunder to you so that it may Storm.



!!Awesomeness Alert!!


The sidebar on this page is titled "Drizzling", and it's easy to overlook on a skim-through. If the Overplayer brought a Storm but it's only Drizzling, here's your chance to move on. Often in games as a DM/GM my WORST in-the-moment fear is that the scene/story/plot-point is not immediately engaging to one or more players but we're going to drag it out until the train has arrived at its next designated stop because everyone's too polite to let on. All these in-the-moment fears add up to me as a nervous wreck over the course of the entire session.

The Drizzling "mechanic" takes the load off. Players can still be polite.

"This scene is awesome, let's dispatch the danger and move on."
OR
"This scene is awesome, let's stay here for a while."

You're also letting the Overplayer know: let's not visit this flavor of scene again. I liked the taste but didn't love it.

That's pretty cool.

+++

Okay I've got to think this is the dangerous part in the read-through, the fork in the road, where people are going to decide to cut this journey short and take a detour or stay the course. Players rolling dice and it's not a to-hit roll? Players have control over the outcome? Ridiculous.

This is the part where our curious self should try to implore the detour self to stay the course and see what's up ahead.

You might be really confused at this point (or not). The Perilous Phase summary in the game, the fine example of play in the chapter, and of course the game text itself, do a much better job of explaining all this than I can haha. I hope as part of this read-through you at least get a gist of what SWM is trying to do.
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Writing is tough.
Editing is even tougher!
Maybe my goal for the next entry should be to avoid walls of text.
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Well, that was the part that made me decide this is not for me. It seems that it all depends on all the players wanting to create a story together with the dice giving little nudges one way or another rather than have story emerge from the play.

Is that correct or am I off?
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quozl wrote:
Well, that was the part that made me decide this is not for me. It seems that it all depends on all the players wanting to create a story together with the dice giving little nudges one way or another rather than have story emerge from the play.

Is that correct or am I off?
Jon, in my experience playing and running this game the story definitely emerges "from play" in the sense that there is no fixed plot or story before hand, so it has to come "from play". Also, it is very difficult if not impossible for one person to just "tell their story", everyone is involved. Also, it is not overtly negotiated (as in people work out on a meta-level what is happening and then narrate it), people just say what their character is doing and what is happening around them until the moment of resolution arrives.

But I think what you are talking about here is that you suspect the dice don't have a major impact on the ongoing story compared to, say, a Powered by the Apocalypse game. In my experience, the dice do have a major effect on how the game plays out because they will set the tone and also determine what is allowed and not allowed in resolution, depending on the phase. But it is a very different kind of interaction between dice and narration then most games, and might not be everyone's cup of tea.
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quozl wrote:
create a story together with the dice giving little nudges one way or another rather than have story emerge from the play.


It seems to me as though it's not an either/or situation here! (Remember that I haven't finished reading this whole thing, and I've not played: so others might pipe in with a different answer).

As we're about to discover (heh) in the next phase, The Discovery Phase, the table does indeed have a lot of control. But only in the sense that the questions that Players ask in this game are the kinds of questions DMs/GMs might ask in other games. In answer to your query (yeah I just re-watched Blade Runner last night) story seems to 100% emerge from play.

And that's a great thing! It delves right into that primal pool of gaming that's at the heart of RPGs. When my kids play their own version of RPGs in the backseat of the car as we're driving around they all (each of them) are so eager to insert their stuff into the story. There's no railroading going on that's for sure, and I feel that's the same here.

As far as the dice we'll have to defer to Hans' answer and anyone else who's played. The nudges of the dice do seem subtle at first glance while reading. Maybe this is one of those games you just have to play to really feel the weight of them.
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I think we might be using different definitions of story emerging from play. What I mean by it does not have anything to do with railroading. I mean that you play the game and then afterwards, you have a cool story that you share with your fellow players about that game.

Swords Without Master currently looks to me a lot like the card game, Once Upon a Time, in that it gives you some vague pointers (like tone) and tells you to make up whatever story you want. Everybody does this and their stories intertwine and that is the game. I would describe that as a game for creating stories.

Maybe I need better terminology.
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quozl wrote:
tells you to make up whatever story you want. Everybody does this and their stories intertwine and that is the game.



Well, I won't make any more comment since I'm not done reading and haven't played... :-) ...except to say that it's probably a lot more traditional than make-up-whatever-story-you-want. The first thing the Overplayer does after all is set the scene just like any 'ol D&D game.
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USP45 wrote:
quozl wrote:
tells you to make up whatever story you want. Everybody does this and their stories intertwine and that is the game.



Well, I won't make any more comment since I'm not done reading and haven't played... :-) ...except to say that it's probably a lot more traditional than make-up-whatever-story-you-want. The first thing the Overplayer does after all is set the scene just like any 'ol D&D game.

Just like... not so much of the "I present the scene, you tell me what you do, roll dice, I tell you how it goes, go to step two until someone's dead" way. The mechanics Alex has gone through shape how the story flows, with the dice passing/rolling ritual changing the phase/stymies/etc and the details within decided by phase. It's definitely converse to the typical (D&D etc) arrangement where a story hopefully emerges from the mechanical resolution / GM's prescripted story is acted out by players / player's story ideas are realized, dicegods willing.
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THE DISCOVERY PHASE

Quote:
To wander the world and sample its great and mysterious wonders. To unearth lost and forgotten treasure or lore. To witness the astounding, vile, or bizarre. To foresee treachery and brutality before it becomes reality. There are secrets tucked into every corner of the world and the rogues often have sharper eyes than most for such things, honed to seek out the slightest sign of danger and the promising glint of reward.


This is a cool phase, and I almost wonder if it shouldn't have been described first before the Perilous Phase, if only because it would have been easy to build off of in terms of explaining dice mechanic.

Come here when the table needs to find its guiding star.

"What do you wanna see in our game?" It's not something built into most trad games, but is a question a lot of good DM/GMs ask before a campaign anyways. Sometimes it's built into character creation in the form of a thing/back-story that the game-runner can reference down the line, changeable maybe once a session is over or when its resolved. It always seems a little painful to have to do as a player and a heavy-ish thing on my character sheet that becomes stale almost as soon as I've written it down. This phase doubles down on this idea by building it into the core, but frees itself from heaviness by making it IN THE MOMENT, always guaranteed to be fresh and light.

Again the phase begins by the picking up of dice. We're starting to get into the groove and feel the routine without anyone having to say it out loud.

The Rogue Player (hitting their Tone as always) describes a thing from the world. Maybe it's plot related or it's a direction the player wants the plot to go. The key is significant detail.

Then the Rogue Player gets to ask the Overplayer a question! Which is answered in the Overtone. The key here is to ask a loaded question --> wikipedia says the question attempts to limit direct replies to be those that serve the questioner's agenda.

The Old Queen has risen after all these centuries and her unliving army marches even now to this very town. Whom does she seek for a groom?

Because it's a loaded question, now's the chance to add to the stuff you've written about your Rogue if you so desire. Remember earlier in character creation we wrote some stuff down. Well, during the course of the game you might have become enamored with some new person, place, or thing. Now's the chance to ask your loaded question and then add this Named Thing to your list of stuff you wrote down that's attached to your Rogue. It inherits all the privileges, protections, and perils that come with being Named. >8-)


So what about the dice? Stymied Discoveries (tie result) carry the usual change in Overtone along with an escalation. The loaded question is still asked but (awesomely) only the Players know the answer, not the Rogues.

As always, if you have the dice you're in control! The talking stick is yours. Everyone's interacting but you're driving.

Finally, if we see the way forward, take the dice up and we're done. Otherwise pass the dice around some more and keep going.

Yet more cool sidebars abound in this section. One talks of that which was left unspoken. It's related to how sometimes the empty spaces in a painting or photo carry the day.

Of note in the Summary sidebar for the various Phases themselves: they start with a nice summary of how things play out but then more importantly tell you why! And what's expected.

Next up: the final phase. The Rogues' Phase.
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quozl wrote:
I think we might be using different definitions of story emerging from play.


Arkham Horror: The Card Game came back in stock at a local shop here, just in time for All Hallows' Eve! It got me thinking about what you said and I think this card game is a good example of what you mean by emergent play.

Arkham: LCG wrote:

The boundaries between worlds have drawn perilously thin…

Arkham Horror: The Card Game is a cooperative Living Card Game® set amid a backdrop of Lovecraftian horror. As the Ancient Ones seek entry to our world, ... investigators ... work to unravel arcane mysteries and conspiracies.

Their efforts determine not only the course of your game, but carry forward throughout whole campaigns, challenging them to overcome their personal demons even as Arkham Horror: The Card Game blurs the distinction between the card game and roleplaying experiences.


A cool story emerges from people around a table playing a card game.

Anyways, just wanted to let you know that I'm listening and processing.
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THE ROGUES' PHASE
We've arrived at the third of the three phases.

I've still got a rules reading of the Arkham Horror Card Game fresh in my head and this Swords Without Master phase feels like where the table advances the plot for good or bad (the story Acts advance, or the bad-guys' Agenda advances). It's a catch-all phase where you handle all the stuff in the "movie" that's not handled by the other parts of the game.

Maybe you'd handle Conan fighting, slipping, and struggling in a Perilous Phase. Perhaps we learn of Thulsa Doom's snake cult in a Discovery Phase. And we explore how Conan and crew infil the Snake Temple Tower thingy in a Rogues' Phase.

Quote:
If you seek the moment-to-moment exchange of a melee or the creeping awe of the witnessing the unknown becoming known, look to the other phases. For everything else adventure can bring, turn to the Rogues’ Phase.


Demand the tale you wish to see.

HOW?
The Phase begins as usual with the Overplayer setting the scene, then picking up the dice to announce the Thunder. Hand the dice to a Rogue's Player and make a demand! When the player has answered, that player picks up the dice and if no one asks for the phase to end, makes a demand of another Player or the Overplayer by handing over the dice.

WHAT'S A DEMAND?
A lot of games have ritual phrases, like Apocalypse World's "What do you do?"
Leaving the how and why up to the player, ask "Show us how you..."

WHAT DOES AN ANSWER LOOK LIKE?
Roll immediately. Minding your Tone, you're free to narrate within the usual boundaries and constraints (things like you can't kill another Rogue's named thing, etc.) The examples in the chapter are many, and that's a good thing if we are to wrap our heads around this being more than just "everyone telling whatever story they want". The Demands have the opportunity to imply a lot, and you should be quick on your feet to let your Answer get you out of a tight spot.

This is yet another spot in the game where we can be intimate with a single location for a session, or cover vast swathes of time and space with epic events.

WHAT ABOUT TIES?
Example of a tie wrote:
66Sussuan’s player rolls immediately and gets
a tie. The Glum Overtone is now
flipped to Jovial and Sussuan is thwarted.
“The moment I am free, I call out to an
ancestor of mine who was known to be a
slayer of giants and a welcome her spirit
into my body. But my cries only echo
unanswered in the stone halls of the temple.

‘Make haste, my friends. My ancestors have
finally abandoned us,’ I say, unaware of the
fact that we are currently trapped hundreds
of years before my ancestor’s birth.”

Sussuan’s player picks up the dice, but before
they are passed the Overplayer interrupts with
an escalation, “The throng of worshippers who
had been chanting now flee screaming before you
as the malachite statues come to life and charge
towards you.”

Sussuan’s player then hands the dice to Mareve’s
player and makes a demand, “Show us how we fall
prey to one of the many temple traps we eluded
earlier.”

Overtone is flipped as always.

The stymied Rogue Player narrates the other side of the original intent. Be careful to interpret the Demand!

This could also be a "flip" from bad to good. If the Demand asked about failure, flip it around.

Show us how you are caught by the thieves’ guild.
Becomes...
Show us how you narrowly avoid being caught by the thieves’ guild.

And at the end of the narration the Overplayer should feel free to jump in to ensure the story gets an escalation due to the tie result.

There's a lot more depth here but I'm trying to keep it short-ish!


This seems like a good place to talk about System Matters and what is being incentivized even "subconsciously" by the game. You'd think at first glance that SWM can be victimized by munchkinism as much as the next RPG. Why wouldn't a player just narrate a Mary Sue with no faults or bad endings. I think that because everything is laid bare on the table for all to see in the purest form (you can't hide behind stats innocently gunning for the vorpal sword) that it actually minimizes "bad behavior". The spirit of the game becomes pretty evident right off the bat as you play (I'd guess), and just as you don't last long in a board-game group if you're a known cheater (and the system itself can't prevent that), you likely will be joining a SWM session with a preconceived notion of what's up.

ENDING THE PHASE
Often I'd guess it might be obvious the table needs to move on to an appropriate phase naturally, but anyone can call an end to the phase if they want.

Next up: pulling it all together with The Threads!
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USP45 wrote:
This seems like a good place to talk about System Matters and what is being incentivized even "subconsciously" by the game. You'd think at first glance that SWM can be victimized by munchkinism as much as the next RPG. Why wouldn't a player just narrate a Mary Sue with no faults or bad endings. I think that because everything is laid bare on the table for all to see in the purest form (you can't hide behind stats innocently gunning for the vorpal sword) that it actually minimizes "bad behavior". The spirit of the game becomes pretty evident right off the bat as you play (I'd guess), and just as you don't last long in a board-game group if you're a known cheater (and the system itself can't prevent that), you likely will be joining a SWM session with a preconceived notion of what's up.
In my experience the Rogue's Phase is exactly what prevents this sort of thing. If you are trying to protect your rogue from a particular bad outcome the other players will certainly make you accept that outcome through a demand. A rogue that is always immaculately dressed is going to get "Show us how your fancy hat gets eaten by a camel." A rogue that is always acrobatic and light on their feet is going to get "show us how you fall off the tightrope and who saves you". On the other hand, a rogue that has had a lot of setbacks, that has been described as really struggling, is going to get a break from the other players. "Show us how you take down the wizard's henchman".

In other words, your other player's regulate the amount of good and bad outcomes your rogue experiences by way of the Rogue's Phase to a large extent.
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