October Challenge: the greatest adventurers in all the lands meet for tea

That’s the premise as it stands, anyway. Although it doesn’t have to be tea in the cups. ­čÖé

I like to walk through a thought experiment version of play to see if the current design elements work before moving on. We’ll see if there are any unforeseen gaps or flaws in play on a basic level. Here’s the set-up: four great adventurers gather for their yearly conclave, as is the custom across the known world, to share their exploits and thereby maintain their status. All of the adventurers are “seventh level” and so will draw seven random tokens from the bag to determine their infamy and renown. I think it’s fun to have players introduce their characters, and then draw tokens afterward, to more sharply delineate self-perception from the reality represented by the tokens, so that’ll be the order they happen in.

Ahmad tells us of Lady Crestmore, who earned her fortune as a cutlass-wielding harpy of the high seas! He draws seven status tokens, and gets 2 renown (white) and 5 infamy (black).

Bego├▒a is playing Ziyi, a wandering seeker of magical lore from beyond the eastern mountains. She draws a phenomenal 7 renown!

Cheryl introduces Fra Ambrosio, a mendicant and hospitalier, who turns out to have 3 renown and 4 infamy. Interesting to see how she spins that….

David decides to have a little fun and announces Lord Crestmore, the ne’er-do-well fourth son of a minor noble, strongarmed into a marriage by the now-Lady Crestmore because she was richer than he is! His draw is 5 renown and 2 infamy.

We need a way to establish the order of play, so let’s say that the first quest-giver is the person with the highest renown (meaning Ziyi/Bego├▒a). Each quest-giver can choose any other player to bestow a quest, as long as the recipient has not already been given a quest.┬áBego├▒a chooses Lord Crestmore and extemporaneously makes up a quest to be undertaken. This is the point at which stakes are set: we’ll borrow a cue from Munchausen and make it a wagering arrangement, where the quest-giver’s own tokens can be used to set aspects of the quest (thus fulfilling one major part of John’s prompt inspiring this game). Infamy can be used to set the hazards and difficulties of the quest, while renown can be used to dictate the heroic feats required to adequately complete the adventure. That means Bego├▒a┬áis capable of wagering one or more of Ziyi’s renown, and for each one, there’s a step in the quest that requires some act of bravery and skill, but since Ziyi has no infamy, she can’t make the quest harder by stipulating how the quest is more treacherous.

Unless… it’s often said that it’s easier to be feared than loved, and that the dark side is easier and more seductive than the light. Let me introduce one twist to the token drawing element during character introduction: a character can always trade in a renown token for an infamy token, though not vice versa. In this case, then,┬áBego├▒a could (prior to being the quest-giver) traded in one or more of her renown for infamy. That sacrifices the surety of going first as quest-giver for the ability to amp up quest hazards. I like it. So let’s rewind and say that┬áBego├▒a opted to trade one of those renown for infamy, which still lets her be the first quest-giver but also to throw a curveball at Lord Crestmore. She puts up that infamy as well as two renown to require Lord Crestmore to find the invisible nomad tribe who wander the southern deserts, and then obtain from them the password to enter the Doorless Keep where the Chalice of Life is kept. Those are the two epic feats bought by the renown; the complication arising from the infamy is that the southern deserts have a phenomenally hot climate and Lord Crestmore must go on this quest with no armor to protect his delicate person! (Bego├▒a is riffing off of David’s description of Lord Crestmore as a cowardly dilettante afraid of being harmed. The complications in particular should challenge the recipient’s strengths or preferences. Otherwise, they’re not complications!)

Now, we’re going to deviate from Munchausen here in a significant way: David does not relate Lord Crestmore’s adventures yet. Each player gets to be the quest-giver in turn first, and then each adventurer gets to narrate their quest. Why? A couple of reasons. First, while there’s nothing wrong with Munchausen‘s emphasis on the ability to think on one’s feet, my experience with the game is that a player who’s distracted, sidetracked too much, or even just not as strong an extemporaneous storyteller as the others can dampen the momentum of the whole game with one stumble, so I want to give each player a little breathing room to deal with quests. This is more important given that the stakes for the quest-givers are higher than in Munchausen: several tokens are wagered up front at once, as opposed to one at a time in an escalating bidding war. It’s also important because, as one might have inferred, one does not have the wagered tokens put up as quest-giver to use during the quest phase itself: players face a delicate balancing act between really piling on the complications and feats to another player’s quest while still being able to have tokens to use for the previously discussed interference/assistance functions.

Fast forward: all the players have similarly wagered tokens as quest-giver to assign adventures to their fellow players. We now let each player start describing their adventures in the order they were given. A brainstorm occurs to add a little challenge to the mix: let’s harden up Munchausen‘s loose rule on keeping stories to a manageable length (no more than five minutes or the length of time needed to drink a full glass). Instead, let’s say that players must accomplish their quests in no more sentences than their character’s level. Thus,┬áDavid can only describe Lord Crestmore’s travels in search of the Chalice of Life in seven or fewer sentences, being seventh level. If another player chooses to get involved, for good or for ill, the token they use to do so adds one sentence to the count to compensate. (The time to think between being given the quest and accomplishing it thus becomes even more important!) If David can do so, he gets the tokens wagered by the quest-giver. If he cannot, however,┬áBego├▒a gets those tokens back and gets to draw another token as a reward.

That seems to be a fundamental framework, although there already feel like some rough spots. I’ll let this percolate for a while and see if anything comes up.