[GPNW08] Montsegur 1244: The Best Siege Ever

edited June 2008 in Actual Play
Posted By: Jason MorningstarFor fuck's sake, tell me about Montsegur 1244 immediately.
First, a quote: when we hit act III, the Winter, the time when all hopes prove false, when our well was poisoned, our grain burned in an accidental fire set by the frustrated wife of Pierre Roger, and when a Templar peacemaker was murdered and dumped in the catacombs...the smell of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies wafted into the room.

Chris said: "Oooh, cookies! It's the best siege ever!."

Anyway. Montsegur is very, very structured. All characters are provided, including some juicy built-in subplots, and there is a rigid progression of scenes. In Act I, it's fall and we're all jolly and we think we can hold out. In Act V, we figure out who burns, who recants, and who escapes. There is a quota on all three fates.

Little educational readings by the characters are scheduled directly into the game timeline. This is good and bad; good in that they are very concise and well-written and it's nice not to have to absorb them all at once; bad in that some of the information scheduled to be exposed later in the game is really needed going in and probably contradicted and busted a few people's SIS. The Cathars were weird, as far as Christians go. I had no idea they believed in reincarnation until we hit the second act and read their statement of faith and principles.

Players take turns framing scenes. The scene framer sets the scene and assigns roles, if any are needed, and rules the scene by fiat. In practice there was lots of dirty hippie kibbutzing about outcomes as we adapted our story impulses to the game's framework. I LOVE this style of play. I love being granted some authority to destabilize things while not having to bear the entire burden of antagonization.

I also played the fabulous Geiger Counter on Sunday morning, which deserves a thoughtful AP all its own. This weekend was like "Go Play Siege Stories With Rotating Gamemasters" for me. :) In both games I deemphasized my own player characters and spent most of my time thinking about how to toss monkeywrenches into the situation. For me, a good siege tale is all about how the occupants wither or are reborn in the siege -- "The Mist" is my siege canon -- and so in both games I used my GM slice trying to provoke the PCs into facestabbing each other. If this is a good style for Montsegur, then the rules might need to push that a little harder. There is another post waiting to be born here, I think.

[continued....]

Comments

  • edited June 2008
    Back to Montsegur: There is a rule for stealing the GM role. We had one wonderful sequence with three or four GM steals and the scene mutated in some lovely ways. Everyone gets two or three opportunities to steal, so if you want to push a particular story-bit, you'll probably have the opportunity. The GM-stealing cards each had a color bit on them, like pouring rain or tears in a puddle or buzzing flies or what-have-you. These were sometimes evocative.

    During the midgame, scene framers will be dealt other cards with inspiring, provocative, and game-destabilizing input -- things like "what's going to happen to the treasure of Montsegur?" and "A Templar arrives! Is he genuine in wanting to help, or is he as mad as his quest?" Both of the scenes I generated came from these cards and I appreciated them a lot. They're the best feature of the game, I think. They made it very easy to frame scenes.

    At the end, we narrated the fates of our PCs. At least one must burn, and only one can escape outright. Recanting is the other option. I claimed escape for my guy Bertrand, the Perfect of the Cathars, and it was more tragic than if he'd burned, I hope.

    I thought it would be an interesting hack to have each player narrate the fate of another's PC; it might make the game more mutual and outward-looking and would've pushed me harder into audience mode, but this is just musing on a hack, it's not dissatisfaction with the game.

    We had a big table-poster that had spaces for the various cards and tracks the phases. I think it had some mountains on it too. Some of us wanted a floorplan of Montsegur and environs on that poster, and that might have helped us get our scenes on, although it might have also forced the game into "I'm here, and I can't be in this place because I was just over here" and other kinds of character positioning ratholes, so maybe it was best that Montsegur lived only in our minds.

    Speaking of props, the game did not have a relationship map for its premade characters, and it really needed one. I sketched one out during some downtime. The Perfects, the high priests of the Cathars, did not tie into the relationship map at all. This makes sense, as they are ascetics who cast off worldy ties, including friends, lovers, and family -- but makes it harder to play them. My Perfect's struggle was mostly internal. He was a broken, broken man.

    Subjectively, I had a fabulous time playing the game; Alan and Wil and Chris and Jennifer and Willem -- you guys bring the fire, and I felt there was a great amount of trust at the table, a great sense of when to give and when to take. The game taught its situation really well, and the story-cards were lovely. Poignant shit happened, esp. with the fate of Wil's philandering Pierre Roger, the commander of Montsegur's defenders, and the fates of the children he tried to save.

    (Wil had a story card saying that Pierre received revelation from God, and told me that I had to be God. I told him to escape from Montsegur and follow My condor to the East, and that if he went forward with faith that I would deliver him from his enemies. He tried to escape but he and his adulterous love were captured, and they chose the flames over professing faith in any god. It was awesome to get to be a part of that.)

    I also adored a scene in which my Perfect Bertrand had to improvise some theology in order to administer the Cathar pre-death rite to a man who was injured and could not respond, and how he let the man die without the rite rather than permit Alan's harlot to proxy for the dying man. Alan did a faboo job framing this one and letting the heartbreak and tragedy develop.

    Man, I got to play Montsegur and Mountain Witch / Heart of Darkness in the same day. I left in a hurry to get home and mummify my head with fiber-reinforced duct tape so it didn't fucking explode.
  • I wasn't sure what to expect with this game going in, but anything that puts religious motivations and the religious impulse under the microscope is interesting to me, and I'm also a fan of limited cast pressure-cooker plots.

    Johnzo is correct in stating that the game is a very highly directed set piece. In some ways it felt like an "advanced" version of a How to Host a Murder type game. I also got limited echos of Universalis, and a more strong reminder of Pantheon/Narrative Cage-Match. Somebody alluded to the fact that this was Jeepform, but I know nothing of that.

    However, as structured as it is, it is not without replay value. The 12 characters are dealt out evenly among the players (we had 6 players, the max) and after an initial "practice" scene (the assassination of a Catholic inquisitor, that serves as a prelude to the siege), in the first round of actual play, each player chooses and pushes forth one of the characters they've been dealt as their main character for the game. From then on, they have authority over that character's actions and statements (but not outcomes, that authority is given to the current narrator), while the other character is designated a secondary character. The primary character must survive till the end of the siege to make their final choice, but the secondary characters may be disposed of in any way at the whim of the players.

    This means that in each instance of play, a different subset of characters of the 12 will receive primary focus, so I imagine quite varied stories could be told depending on which exact set of characters come to the forefront.

    Also there are more story and scene cards that will be used in a single run of the game, so I can see a little variety being added there as well.

    Each character is provided with a basic description followed by several leading questions that provide aspects of the character to explore. Typically the questions either ask about the motivation of the character in some area, or establish some possible source of relationship tension with another character. Because this web of relationships is so important to heating up the pressure cooker, I totally agree that a relationship map is vital to getting the most juice out of play. And given that the introduction to the castle that is read out near the beginning of the game goes into some detail on the physical layout of the place, it would have been awfully nice to have that same information provided as a sketch map on the play mat. I don't think it would constrain narration, I think it would inspire it with more detail.

    I was the player of Pierre Roger, the leader of the castle defenses. My pre-loaded issues were my affair with the harlot Arsande (unfortunately noted on her sheet, but not mine, the cause of some initial awkwardness) and my relationship with my wife, one of the two daughters of the lord of keep. My questions were about what I was ultimately fighting for. In my interpretation, Roger became a man who had lost everything, oscillating between escape in his affair, and nursing his hate and desire to kill as many Catholics as he could before the end came. It was he who coldly murdered the Templar and dumped his body in the catacombs beneath the castle. When the chance came for him to preserve something worthwhile, in the person of the children, he leapt at it. At least he got to go to his death believing that he had done one good thing (oh, and sent one more Catholic to a flaming hell). A pity it wasn't true....

    Because the play of the game allows each person to get into the head of their character, I don't think that the idea of narrating a different character's epilogue is interesting to me. The final choice is your chance to put on display what you've determined out your character is all about. Not to have had that chance would have been very dissatisfying for me.

    It's also worth noting that the final quotas on outcomes apply only to the primary characters (at least one must burn, at most one may escape into the night). This means that the secondary characters could, if the players so desired all go on to have long and happy lives, free from recrimination. We did not so choose. We butchered them all in an orgy of pathos.

    Final count for the primary characters: two renounced God outright and burned for that blasphemy, two burned for their belief, one in faith and one in innocence, one renounced, and one was given leave to go forth unmolested, into a world he believed to be unendurable hell.
  • Posted By: johnzoFirst, a quote: when we hit act III, the Winter, the time when all hopes prove false, when our well was poisoned, our grain burned in an accidental fire set by the frustrated wife of Pierre Roger, and when a Templar peacemaker was murdered and dumped in the catacombs...the smell of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies wafted into the room.

    Chris said: "Oooh,cookies!It's thebest siege ever!."
    Yeah, well...some things are worth breaking immersion for.

    Johnzo, thanks so much for writing an excellent AP report. To be honest, after writing up Heart of Darkness today I was just too drained.

    Montsegur 1244 fulfilled all my expectations and more. I am so pleased that the five of you took a chance to play this game with me. I think everyone at the table had their moments early on of trying to wrap their head around the rules and/or the content. But by Act Two, we were firing on all cylinders, and the scenes got better and better. In some ways Montsegur 1244 changed the way I thought about gaming.
    Posted By: rafialSomebody alluded to the fact that this was Jeepform, but I know nothing of that.
    Wilhelm, just for the record, I do not believe this game is related to Jeepform at all. I am presuming this because of the lack of an authoritative GM (or even any GM at all). But perhaps someone with more Nordic streetcred could speak to this.

    Frederick, you wrote a kickass game. Aesthetically, I did not do the game much justice. Because I was flying and because I didn't have much time before the con to prep, I ended up with everything on paper. So no cool cardboard cards. And when I asked Kinkos to blow up the map to 4x the size...they actually blew it up to 16x16. So the board was freaking huge.

    But what got me about this game was the sheer emotional content. I'm a 39 year old guy, and I will tell you straight up...when I narrated the little orphan girl riding up on the horse with her brother and offering themselves up to be burned at the funeral pyre to be close to her dead mother. And then changing her mind at the last moment when she felt the flames...I was getting choked up with emotion for this character. After the game ended, I had to leave and take a long walk to think about what had just happened at the table. It was that kind of intense for me.

    Can a role-playing game make you cry? Well this one came pretty damn close. Props to you, Frederick Jensen!!
  • (So far, the most defining feature of Jeepform is that most Jeepform games are written by people from the group "Vi Åker Jeep". Two or three non-Jeepers have written Jeepforms, but they've labeled them as such. I've never heard Montsegur 1244 labeled a Jeepform, and it doesn't look much like one).
  • Ah, thank you Matthijs! Us stupid Americans and our lack of knowledge about what goes on outside of our country:)
  • I love you guys.

    I've seen Montsegur 1244 working its magic many times now, but I was quite curious whether it would survive the trip over there when played straight from the (translated) text.

    The game is not designed as jeepform as such, but it actually fulfills almost all of the jeepform truths.

    The Cathar faith is quite peculiar and important to the story and I've seen the glitch in SIS that may happen, when everyone realises this in Act 2. However, I don't think I can fix this without violating the other design concern of no information overload. I may add a relationship map, but there will not be a detailed map of the castle. The game has plenty of replay value as is, but I may provide an alternate cast of characters or extra cards at some point.

    Some questions for you:
    With six players playing from the text, what was the total play time?
    How did it work with only one scene pr. player in either Act 2 and 3? Did you feel you had scenes enough to develop the story?
    How did the prologue work for you? Was it tricky to frame? To finish?

    Sounds like scene cards, story cards and character questions worked perfectly for you.

    And yes, roleplaying can make you cry.
  • edited June 2008
    With six players playing from the text, what was the total play time?
    I don't remember the time exactly, but we were playing in a four hour slot, and we ended comfortably with no rushing, and time for a little comfort/cookie break in the middle. I'd say maybe 3 1/2 hours?
    How did it work with only one scene pr. player in either Act 2 and 3? Did you feel you had scenes enough to develop the story?
    That actually worked quite well, as we had three players who were interested in privation and three that were interested in battle and its consequences. And I think it tightened things up enough that the game was never in danger of becoming tedious before the end.

    Side comment: a thing I noticed happen a few times - somebody would play a scene card to grab the narration just as the current narrator was ending the scene... They'd then use their narration power to quickly add in another short scene they wanted. I think this was a cool thing because it let the scene count expand a little so that nobody felt that they got shorted on what they wanted to address by a mandated scene count.
    How did the prologue work for you? Was it tricky to frame? To finish?
    Yes, we noodled about a bit on that one, without a clear idea of where we were going or how to end it. On the other hand, I think it gave us all a little warm up time, so that when we got to the first real scene, people were starting to feel a little more comfortable. So I think it established its purpose.
  • Posted By: rafialSide comment: a thing I noticed happen a few times - somebody would play a scene card to grab the narration just as the current narrator was ending the scene... They'd then use their narration power to quickly add in another short scene they wanted. I think this was a cool thing because it let the scene count expand a little so that nobody felt that they got shorted on what they wanted to address by a mandated scene count.
    Good catch, I actually liked that a lot myself. I had a interstitial scene in mind that was based on a Story card, but I screwed up and tried to run the scene when it was someone else's turn. So I was able to use a Scene card to tack it on the end of someone else's scene without a fuss and everyone was happy:)

    And one more thing. The "mandated" 15 minute break after Act Two was a good thing. We were all like "well it's in the rules, I guess we should take a break." And with a game that intense, the break allowed us to quickly recharge the batteries a bit for the second half.
  • Thanks, I love this game and I'm so glad you had fun with it. I'm super jealous, since I have yet to play it myself.
  • edited June 2008
    I played Arsende and Raymond, lowest and highest in the castle. One a downtrodden woman, the other a privileged male.

    I'm going to add my voice to adding some means of identifying possible scene locations. If not a map, how about a list of suggested locations? I just could not keep track of all the different locations mentioned in the "Montsegur" descriptive passage. Given all the creation that players have to do for their characters, it's nice to have anchors to grab.

    Have you considered that you could produce a series of related games using the rules and format as a template? I suppose the hard part would be finding a situation that throws an issue like fanaticism and cruelty into such contrast. Masada for example. The Fall of Berlin. Jim Jones koolaid club.

    Thanks Frederik. For me, Montsegur 1244 stands out as a great experience even among a weekend of great experiences. And thanks to the other players who brought awesome surprise twists and pathos.

    Thanks!
  • I agree that it could be generalized. I immediately thought of the siege of Königsberg in 1945, although the beliefs you would be burning for might be distasteful and have no relativism. The cool thing about Montsegur is the wide open book that is Cathar belief.
  • Wow, I didn't know the break was mandated in the rules!

    ...

    The rules should also mandate cookies...
  • I played Cecille and Phillipa. The idea of the "Perfects" really goes against every life-affirming ethic in my body, but I couldn't stop playing Cecille to her austere and principled doom. When the stomach cancer (my explanation for her taking consolamentum) finally tore open her guts as she marched to her appointed pyre, I thought "yeah...this feels like exactly the kind of mercy her faith would give her, rather than feeling every last lick of flame". sigh.

    To me, it felt very "Polaris"-arc like. I liked that. In that sense, it seems to me you could come up with a zillion different tragic settings that would fit the structure.

    I also have to put up a third vote on the power of narration-stealing cards. VERY AWESOME! It let that aggressive energy that a lot of us have, get an outlet in a really constructive way.
  • Cecille was a powerfully memorable character as portrayed by you, Willem. One of my favorite scenes was the final offering of consolamentum during the true, before we all marched down the mountain. I basically set that up and then turned it over to you as Cecille, Johnzo as Bernard and Chris as Faye. It was awesome to watch.
  • Weird stuff you learn from reading history: Apparently the word "bugger" comes from propaganda about Cathar (Bougres) sexual practices. Huh.
  • Posted By: johnzo
    For me, a good siege tale is all about how the occupants wither or are reborn in the siege -- "The Mist" is my siege canon -- and so in both games I used my GM slice trying to provoke the PCs into facestabbing each other. If this is a good style for Montsegur, then the rules might need to push that a little harder. There is another post waiting to be born here, I think.
    John, I'd like to hear more about this in another thread. I am not familiar with The Mist.
    Posted By: Caesar_XIn some ways Montsegur 1244 changed the way I thought about gaming.
    Chris, I'd very much like to hear more about this, perhaps in another thread.

    Scene cards and scene framing: Using scene cards to add a scene at the end is perfectly ok. I've seen players frame multiple scenes in row as their "scene" and I've seen players giving back narration to the original scene framer after an interrupt. Neither is explicit in the rules, but I think it fits naturally with the type of play. I hint at this play style e.g. in the example by having the player framing the scene ask another player to play a particular character in the scene, rather than state it.
    Posted By: AlanIf not a map, how about a list of suggested locations? I just could not keep track of all the different locations mentioned in the "Montsegur" descriptive passage.
    It is a fine balance. I don't want to restrict locations to a particular setup of the castle, but I do want to hint at some particularities (like the water reservoir). The current solution is the background sheet and some locations hinted at by scene cards and story cards. At one point I had locations written on the map on the board, but it became too messy. A list could work, but I don't want information overload and I don't want locations to be restricted to these.
    Posted By: Alan
    Have you considered that you could produce a series of related games using the rules and format as a template? I suppose the hard part would be finding a situation that throws an issue like fanaticism and cruelty into such contrast. Masada for example. The Fall of Berlin. Jim Jones koolaid club.
    Yes, the framework can certainly be used to tell other stories. And yes, the hard part is to find a situation that fits well enough. If anybody out there has a good candidate, then go ahead and try it out. I won't patent the framework (or maybe the framework should have a ShareAlike license?). My current game-in-design does not fit, so I'm boxing around with that idea until I get the right angle of attack.
  • Posted By: Frederik J. JensenHow did the prologue work for you? Was it tricky to frame? To finish?
    I think we floundered a bit with the required outcome that Bernard had to kill the Inquisitor, because the scene felt like it ought to go in a different direction.

    My Bernard was an angry, nasty man, already condemned to die by the Inquisition even before he hooked up with the Cathars. He wanted to slowly vivisect the Inquisitor, but someone narrated some urgency into the proceedings. Despite that, B didn't want to leave. After some hemming and hawing we decided that Pierre physically forced B's hand while B was menacing the Inquisitor with a knife, making B. stab the Inquisitor fatally. Pierre would have been content to just cut down the Inquisitor himself, but we had to figure out how to put the murder itself on B's hands.

    Bernard wound up with some resentment over this and regarded it as a stolen kill, though I don't think we followed up on that, since B wasn't my main character.

    If I can ask, why is Bernard singled out here? Wouldn't just requiring the Inquisitor's death be sufficient?
  • edited June 2008
    Posted By: willemThe idea of the "Perfects" really goes against every life-affirming ethic in my body, but I couldn't stop playing Cecille to her austere and principled doom.
    Remember our first scene, where Bertrand got all emo and and said that he believed that trying to prolong our peoples' stay on Earth was sheer folly, and that we ought to calmly walk into our fate before the siege tarnished our perfection any further?

    When Cecille patiently explained that all things have a time, Bertrand totally believed in that. It felt like Bertrand got the spiritual refreshment he was looking for. It was a great immersive moment and really helped me understand how the two Perfects related.
  • If I can ask, why is Bernard singled out here? Wouldn't just requiring the Inquisitor's death be sufficient?
    I want the prologue to show that Bernard can kill and that Pierre Roger can command his loyal men. And I want to set Bernard and Pierre Roger up as "partners in crime" for potential conflicts later with e.g. the Perfects. Finally, it makes it easy for the framing player to build a scene with more than one character present.
  • Posted By: Frederik J. JensenI want the prologue to show that Bernard can kill and that Pierre Roger can command his loyal men. And I want to set Bernard and Pierre Roger up as "partners in crime" for potential conflicts later with e.g. the Perfects. Finally, it makes it easy for the framing player to build a scene with more than one character present.
    This feels a bit too specific. Some constraints are liberating, and others are stifling -- this feels like the latter.

    The story could get off to a startling beginning if, say, one of the children, or one of the pacifist Prefects (!) killed the Inquisitor.

    Our opening scene had the almost exact opposite effect of your intention. It created tension between Bernard and Pierre rather than showcasing their allegiance. I wonder if we/I missed some piece of setup? I wasn't the one who read the rules or set the scene, and it was a noisy room, so this is a strong possibility.

    (I hope this doesn't sound like I'm putting your game down. I carp because I care!)
  • Posted By: johnzo
    Remember our first scene, where Bertrand got all emo and and said that he believed that trying to prolong our peoples' stay on Earth was sheer folly, and that we ought to calmly walk into our fate before the siege tarnished our perfection any further?

    When Cecille patiently explained that all things have a time, Bertrandtotally believed in that. It felt like Bertrand got the spiritual refreshment he was looking for. It was a great immersive moment and really helped me understand how the two Perfects related.
    Yes. I most definitely remember. I felt somewhat like that old lady in Stephen King's 'the Stand'. Except totally nuts. Ok, redundant, maybe.
  • Posted By: johnzoThis feels a bit too specific. Some constraints are liberating, and others are stifling -- this feels like the latter.
    Posted By: johnzo(I hope this doesn't sound like I'm putting your game down. I carp because I care!)
    I appreciate your feedback - I asked about the prologue because I know it is not perfect but I'm struggling on how to fix it (and if I should fix it at all or just accept it as good enough). I don't think you've missed anything in the setup, my intentions explained above are not explicitly stated.
  • edited June 2008
    What if you required that the first scene open immediately after the murder -- "Bernhard has just killed the bishop with Pierre's tacit support, how do you respond?"

    Or if you don't want all the players to know this just "The bishop has been murdered... what are you doing when you hear? How do you respond?" then include notes on Bernard and Pierre's cards about their involvement.
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