[Love in the Time of Seið] Witch-Queen of the Barrows

edited June 2010 in Actual Play
Last night, Matthew / nemomeme coached us through a very satisfying game of Love in the Time of Seið (and by the way, is that really the canonical character-substitution? I spent a week mentally pronouncing it "see-i-oww" before Matthew explained that it was a dental fricative). I'm still excited enough about the game that I want to do an AP report, but I suspect that Matthew might be working on one of his own trademark writeups, so I thought I'd go ahead and start this thread and see which of us gets it done first. THE RACE BEGINS, GAGAN!


  • edited June 2010
    So for the cast, we had:
    • Matthew playing Runa the Seiõkona
    • Colin playing Ragnar the King
    • Jim playing Valgerd the Princess
    • David playing Yngvar the Earl
    • and me as Brand the Knight.
    Matthew, as usual, had all the tactile game pieces nicely prepped: colored pencils, green Location cards and red Resolution cards, along with char sheets and extra copies of the key phrases.

    He started by walking us through a "test the phrases" scene, which the rules suggest you draw from a setting you're all familiar and comfortable with--we chose Battlestar Galactica, not least because it gave David a chance to bust out his killer Saul Tigh. I volunteered to be the spotlight character as Adama, and we started on the Galactica bridge, with Colin's Starbuck explaining why Hot Dog had been killed on a routine scouting mission. (We decided Adama's Issues--specifically, the ones out of his control--were Love and Loyalty, but didn't get much chance to address those in the short scene.)

    The test scene definitely helped us get our feet wet with the phrases (mostly "more detail" and "do that differently"), but we agreed that giving each player a chance to spotlight in one of them, as the rules suggest, could have taken half the night. We cut it after that one and jumped into the story proper.
  • edited June 2010
    I've already beaten you, Brendan... (points to mind) *in here*…

    Happy to hear you enjoyed it. :)

    edit: I didn't see this thread before I posted my own. Regrets. Now we can have a staring contest and see who breaks down and posts further in the others' thread.

    edit edit: (blink) I'll let Ragnar's Ruin sink into the swamp... "More Details" you say?
  • edited June 2010
    Four friends joined me on Sunday to play Love in the Time of Seið. A couple of them had played Archipelago II before but this was my first opportunity to play a "Norwegian style" game. For some games you have a sense that it's going to be good for you just from reading the game, knowing your own preferences in play, and knowing your fellow players' general likings. But you never know for sure until you get it to the table. I really enjoyed it and I think everyone else did as well! I'm thankful for everyone joining me on short notice as I'm facilitating it at GPNW next Sunday and wanted to do a dry run beforehand.

    Our cast: King Ragnar (Colin), The Earl of Garðariki (David), Brand, the Knight (Brendan), Princess Valgerd (Jim), and the Seiðkona Runa, (myself).

    The rules are brief and I'd read them three times but as no one else had seen the game prior, I read from the book quite a bit to explain how the game is played. I knew this probably wasn't the best method but I wanted to explain the game exhaustively; even though the procedures are simple, there are some details that seem especially important to emphasize. A couple of the play modes were outside my experience, especially the role of the game's Theme Guide and their authority over a player's character's Themes.

    Sitting to the right of Colin (King Ragnar), I had authority over the King's Themes of Ancestors and Law. At one point the King blustered to the Garðariki messenger Mord that his three generals, the brothers Harald, Hroðgar, and Hogni would be sufficient to match the Eastern armies gathering at his borders. Mord (David) presented the King with the head of Hogni (killed earlier on the orders of the Earl). The King staggers at the audacity and impossibility of what he is seeing. At this point, I offer that the ancestral Laws require the King to thank his guest (the messenger) for the gift, even one as horrific as this. As Guides all of the players have the option to use the phrase, "Do it differently," if they think my offer is inappropriate to the story, but no one does and my narration stands. In this case, I was creating a fact about the world and the King's lawful obligations to that fact, but the Theme Guide can even narrate the spotlight characters' actions, making the Princess rebellious, the Earl treacherous, and so on.

    I liked this feature of the game. Each of the players was themselves acting towards their character's Themes, but having that Theme Guide was like having a daemon on your right shoulder to drive actions or create world facts that you yourself may not have thought of.

    The whole game has well-wrought creative constraints that seem to help its players towards making an engaging story together. The Theme Guides, the Phrases, the Location cards each with their own possible Events (directed by the Event Guide), along with the three questions on each of the character's sheets.

    We ended up using the "Do it Differently" phrase quite a bit, which I was happy to see. I think it probably always accomplished a better result, and with no hard feelings among the players. David and Colin and I have a good comfort level with each other with suggesting alternative narration from playing PTA together; I wonder how well it works among players who've not played together before.

    I think we only used the "That might not be quite so easy" phrase four times during the course of the whole game; we were providing each other with enough twists and uncertainty without needing to use it much. I think I tried most often to draw it out from others by asserting my Seiðkona as having accomplished several difficult things. I think the Resolution cards are fun.

    I didn't use the phrase "More Details" much (ever?) because people were providing quite a bit of detail on their own and I was concerned about the time. Jason tells me he's never gone over two-and-a-half hours playing LitToS, but it took us about four-and-a-quarter hours to get through it all, including the rules explanation and a warm-up exercise to practice the phrases that was much more abbreviated than what is recommended in the text for your first time playing (we warmed up with one scene using BSG's Starbuck, Cmdr. Adama and Col. Tigh). I definitely got some ideas on how I can abbreviate some of these things for next time so that we can get to playing more quickly. I think I'd also take a stronger facilitator role in the future in directing the scenes to keep them shorter than they were. The game text indicates only that the spotlight player decides when the scene is over and provides a phrase for the other players to extend the scene but not to wrap it up.

    All the players really got into a Shakespearean vibe and our story ended up like an even more tragic King Lear with death, madness and regret all around. Lots of wonderful re-incorporation of events and omens too. Thanks everyone for playing! I'm looking forward to revisting this game often starting next Sunday.

    I'd love to hear from the other players what they enjoyed about the game, especially scenes from the fiction itself. A lot happened!
  • Matthew! Please tell me there is room in your game at GPNW. I can't look at the forum right now. I need to play this game!
  • Heh. No. But maybe we can get a group together FRI-01 or SUN-02. Those are my open slots at the moment. :)
  • Posted By: nemomeme At this point, I offer that the ancestral Laws require the King to thank his guest (the messenger) for the gift, even one as horrific as this.
    This sounds great :) a wonderful escalation of an already gruesome situation. Did the King actually thank the guest? (I mean, did he choose to break the Laws, or obey them in horror?)
  • Oh hey Brendan, the warm-up exercise is really intended to be pretty informal. What I do is pick a familiar setting and just rotate around, like so:

    ME: OK, Joel, you be Murdock and Steve, you be B.A. Joel, get him on a plane. Mike, inject a phrase we haven't seen yet into this scene. Go!

    As soon as we see the phrase and its application...

    ME: OK Mike, you be Hannibal and Steve, you still be B.A. because you are awesome. Shoot your way out of the drug lord's base without hurting anyone. Joel, you're up for a phrase we have not yet seen. Go!

    If any phrase feels wobbly, hit it a couple of times. That's how I do it anyway, and it is fast.
  • edited June 2010
    Posted By: MatthijsPosted By: nemomemeAt this point, I offer that the ancestral Laws require the King to thank his guest (the messenger) for the gift, even one as horrific as this.
    This sounds great :) a wonderful escalation of an already gruesome situation. Did the King actually thank the guest? (I mean, did he choose to break the Laws, or obey them in horror?)

    He did thank the guest. He even left him alive.

    We did a follow-up scene after that of the messenger returning to his master with a message accepting the Earl's offer. The message took the form of Ragnar's sigil...branded onto the messenger's face.

    I think we used 'do it differently' in this scene - originally the messenger's head was going to go back to the Earl, but some people mentioned how much they liked the messenger Mord's performance (handled excellently by David) and how much cooler it would be if he was alive later.

    And, as it happens, at the end of the game he turned out being the Witch Queen's second-in-command. Carrying, in a twisted way, the king's sigil of authority.

    Good stuff.
  • I am reading this and smiling.
  • That's right! Ragnar totally "Aldo Raine'd" Mord after he sneered at the king's thanks and called him and his Law madness.

    I think I also put in that the Law required the King to protect his guest's lives, though not necessarily their well-being. Ragnar obeyed the letter of the Law if not entirely its spirit. And, yeah, we wanted Mord to stick around.
  • edited June 2010
    Posted By: Jason MorningstarThat is so metal! I love the severed head, and using your Theme responsibility to make that even more horrible. That's genius, and exactly what the game can deliver when you are on the ball - using your authority to immediately recontextualize and heighten someone's creative contribution.

    The application of phrases is very, very group specific. I find that my group uses "That might not be quite so easy" all the time to aggressively frame scenes, since it immediately prompts resolution and imparts forward momentum. If you are concerned with condensing the game into 2.5 hours at GPNW, definitely encourage going to resolution more often.
    (above quote from a duplicate thread we consolidated to this one)

    I like the "That might not be so easy" phrase. We may not have used it much due to unfamiliarity with the game, and maybe also because we were so comfortable using "Do it differently." I think we expanded the phrase a bit beyond its original intent, using it not just when something seemed jarring or out of character but also as "How about something more along these lines, might that not be better?" There were a few times where a character took an action that was relatively difficult but was so cool I didn't want to take the risk that it didn't happen by calling for resolution. Maybe others were feeling something similar.

    I do intend to use it the resolution card phrase more next weekend, but I'm not certain it will necessarily prompt a scene's conclusion. That's been your experience? Someone has the character take an action and I can just let it go by saying nothing so that they can get on to the rest of their narration, or I can use the phrase and we can take the time to deal with the resolution mechanic and interpretation… You see what I'm saying? I saw scenes going a bit long here and there due to extended narration of colorful details or dialogue that wasn't necessarily moving the plot forward, not because a character was attempting something uncertain and we were unsure as to the result of that action and hadn't thought to invoke the "That might not be so easy" phrase.

    Maybe some of the length was simply due to our liberal use of "Do it Differently" and then hashing out what really happened...

    There were some other instances where people made some unexpected and interesting moves as Guides that are worth mentioning, but I want to give the other players the opportunity to relay them if they have time.
  • edited June 2010
    In my experience "that might not be so easy" is, among other things, a definitive flag that the scene needs to be resolved. So you go to the cards, the person gets what they want or they don't, a third party describes the outcome, and the scene is done. Here's a shorthand example:

    ME: So I talk to the Princess and I'm a honey-tongued devil and naturally she's easily swayed into poisoning her father.

    STEVE: Whoa, whoa, that might not be so easy.

    ME: Really? You think so? OK, Mike, will you resolve this for us?

    MIKE (drawing a card): Hmm, "Yes, but", OK, the Princess agrees to murder her father, but makes you promise to kill the Seiõkona at the same time, so the two of you can be together without any interference."

    ME: But I love the Seiõkona!

    MIKE: Tough shit!

    ME: Cold, so cold. Steve, you have the next scene. I just promised to murder your witch, so if you want to run with that I'm game...
  • Cool. I can see that.

    Two things about your example, Jason.

    1) I note that Mike as the resolution card interpreter and as a Guide (and not necessarily even with the additional authority that the Theme Guide has over a character's Themes), takes over authorship of both of the characters in the scene ascribing intent and action to them. I hadn't picked up on this mode of play from the game text. I'd anticipate a possible "Whoa! Do it Differently" from one of those two players in our Sunday game. Actually, I don't think we ever pressed as hard as you do in the intial sentence of this example as far as narrating the other player's character's responses to our own actions. Lots of active "face-stabbing" and bold maneuvers, but no, "and then you, Princess, totally do this." That's an expected mode of play as well?

    2) In our Sunday group I'd anticipate a "More Details!" after the resolution in the example, "What's that look like? What do you say to each other? Let's zoom in on that!" Where do see most groups falling in terms of a "story-telling" versus "role-playing in-character dialogue," ratio for LitToS. A wide range by group? Is there some specific textual guidance there? For myself, LitToS is a punchy white-hot Norse Reservoir Dogs blood opera for a completely awesome one-shot and it totally delivered on that level. But at the same time it's an Archipelago II implementation. It has mechanics and play-aids to help quickly focus and guide a group towards a rewarding game, but it also has those "More Details" and "Stay With It" phrases that might encourage the detailed world-building and pace of its parent game.
  • Fuck, if you run this Sunday, I would love to be in.
  • edited June 2010
    Don't take that example too literally, Matthew - there'd be roleplaying and scene painting in there as well. But that's the bones of how we play around here. And as far as authority goes, yes, we're totally OK with stepping on each others toes, but it isn't necessary if your group dislikes that. Thinking back, we don't do that all the time, just when it seems appropriate. One thing I really like about Archipelago is that it is so malleable to local expectations and mores. It's just a ghost of structure, really, and you have to make it your own.

    I'd love to see what your group, fresh off LitToS, would do with the broader, more mellow canvas of Archipelago. At least for me, one of the attractive things about this project was the gateway drug aspect. Archipelago plays a lot like LitToS, except that you and your friends author every single thing.
  • edited June 2010
    Like different improv groups, yeah, I see that...

    I'd love to get an extended Archipelago II game together. Sadly the people that most appeals to have the richest, busiest lives and schedules already... So far at least. ;)

    Something I just thought of to get players new to LitToS rolling: Assuming I'm not the Princess, I'm going to ask to sit to the left of the Princess in subsequent games I facilitate so in the first three scenes of the game I can be an example Event Guide, spotlight player, and then Theme Guide in succession.

    Blake: I must play a game with you this weekend. We'll talk.
  • Posted By: nemomemeI'm going to ask to sit to the left of the Princess
    That's super smart. We should add that as a bit of advice in the rules. I often find that simply modeling expected behavior once is enough to get people on the same page, so you'll be demonstrating each role in sequence right off the bat.
  • Hey, on a content note, can I ask you guys to tell me what thematic elements rose to the top? Was there much sex? Magic? Did specific relationships carry a lot of weight? Did the Knight wolf out? Was there a big war? Who did the Seiõkona side with? Which two characters got resolved first?

    Just curious.
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarPosted By: nemomemeI'm going to ask to sit to the left of the Princess
    That's super smart. We should add that as a bit of advice in the rules. I often find that simply modeling expected behavior once is enough to get people on the same page, so you'll be demonstrating each role in sequence right off the bat.

    Absolutely. Yes.

    Other than that: Wow, I really like how people are doing different things with the phrases! That fits the intention perfectly: The phrases are there to help each individual group set up their own preferences, without a need for A) one dominating player or B) forced consensus. Each phrase is a little push in a specific direction; after a while, when people get aligned, they tend to push in the same direction, and the game really picks up speed.
  • Matthijs, that's interesting. It didn't really occur to me that when a particular phrase fades from use, it means the group is generally in alignment on that stylistic issue in play. Not always, but probably often.
  • Jason, you're at Origins, yes? I'm going to need you to show me (i.e. sell me a copy of) this game during the show.
  • Sure, let's play!
  • edited June 2010
    I think we hit most of the Themes here and there with perhaps only the Knight's Nature being left out. Treachery, Ancestors and The Gods seemed to be most woven into our story.

    The Earl and The Seiðkona had angry sex in the cave by the waterfall. There were two pregnancies. I first gifted the Princess with a pre-marital pregnancy and Jim got me back later, gifting Runa with the Earl's seed after it became clear she loved the King and the King was suspicious of her.

    As far as magic we had implied magical animals, augury, fulfilled prophecies, divine and ghostly visitations as well as divine wrath. In the first scene Runa bade Valgerd to try her weird to call the Elk to her and receive his wisdom. I offered that she should concentrate more carefully that we would not see a repeat of her last attempt. She summoned a different beast as she reached out with her capricious gift and her mind drifted to her love, the Knight.

    Most of the relationships were toxic. I think the relationship that carried the most weight for me was that of King Ragnar and his ghost queen Kadlin, played first by Brendan and then later by me here and there with my Ancestors Theme "lay-on" responsibilities.

    The Knight wolf'ed out in the first scene. Jim had unconsciously framed the opening scene in the swamp between the Princess and Seiðkona as being under a full moon so of course the Knight needed to arrive and get wolfy. (Brendan commented during character selection that he thought all of the characters were hot, but that he particularly liked the off-handed last sentence of the Knight's character synopsis, "He is also a werewolf.")

    We glossed over the war; there was a battle scene towards the end as the Earl invaded the King's Hall.

    As the Seiðkona, I leaned towards the King as being the one I loved because it became clear early on that she was being wrongly implicated in assassination attempts against him (actually tasked by the Earl to the Knight). This decision was cemented later by the Earl. The Earl Yngvar found a dagger belonging to the king in what was ostensibly the Seiðkona's tryst cave where she met only him. Symbolically, he left a dagger emblazoned with his own house's mark in the king's scabbard and left it for the king to find.

    The Seiðkona was resolved shortly after the king found the Earl's dagger in "their" lover's bower. She confessed her infidelity but swore truthfully her love and begged for mercy. But the wrath of the Bear was upon him and he slew her with the Earl's dagger. Her dying utterance another wretched confession: she loved him so fiercely that it was she who'd ended his queen to have him to herself. The Earl was stuck down by a falling timbre in the King's hall, divine wrath wrought by the King's faithfulness to the Law. The King fell in battle. The Knight married the Princess and rose to the throne but was slain by her, as prophisized, in her attempts to unlock the powers of her Gift. The Princess became the mad Witch-Queen of the Barrows. In her epilogue she puzzled at why her killing her love did not unlock her Gift to an extent she was satisfied with and decides that their baby must be her greatest love...
  • I cannot throw enough goats at that. You guys are great.
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