Stonetop RPG - Session post-mortems

Awesome recap. Way more than I expected.

Have my Blades Inspectors game to run in an hour.

If I get some time tonight, I’ll pull out specific moments of the above and tease out the moves/results et al that moved the fiction. Probably more like this weekend though.
 

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Alright, pulling out a few of these to start

[*]After a violent storm the night before, and a violent confrontation between Trys and her father, she awakens to find that Sigurd hasn’t returned home after rushing off in anger. She heads to the north gate looking for him; Sigurd often goes to the cliffs that overlook the Great Forest when he’s angry. Trys finds the guard Grunhilda distracted from her duty with a face in her book. She is learning to read, and struggling to do so. She explains to Trys that Sigurd did leave the night before, he was very angry, and he hasn’t come back.

Ask Questions and Use the Answers: I asked the player when your father's temper gets the best of him, where does he 'walk it off'?

Her answer was he heads out the north gate and sits at the precipice of the cliffs, overlooking The Great Wood (and The Golden Tree - the tallest tree in the wood...perhaps not of this world - I added).

This would be a Seek Insight move but not for the player (who would roll +Wis). Because its for Grunhilda, we're rolling +Def (for Stonetop) which is 0. Result is a 7-9. The player asks a question, gets a true answer, and gets to act upon it with advantage.

Grunhilda saw him head out of the north gate in the middle of the storm. The odd thing was he had a walking stick (he typically doesn't) and a heavy sack thrown over her shoulder. She didn't ask him about it because of his disposition and status in Stonetop.

Trys chides Grunhilda for her reading distraction and goes to consult her companions on the matter.

[*]Meanwhile, a young boy named Eli approaches Dap the Lightbearer and chandler for his help. It seems Eli’s dog, Fang, didn’t come home last night, and Eli’s scared something happened to him. Dap suggests they enlist the aid of Gavin, the Blessed, as he has an affinity with animals. Eli admits he’s afraid of Gavin’s wild ways but is grateful to Dap for his help. Dap sends the boy home and then discusses the situation with Gavin, who agrees to search the perimeter of the town for the boy’s dog.

Again, Seek Insight, but the player is rolling +Wis. He's got one of his 3 wolves with him (the others are herding the goats as is their responsibility). The creature has Keen Senses as a tag, so he can smell blood et al; advantage on the move. Gets a 10 so 3 questions and Advantage when acting upon an answer. He only asks 2. What he finds:

A trail of blood at he north gate leads both into The Great Wood and into Stonetop, terminating in front of the house of Eli and his brother Aedelfred (the bellows-pump who was the primary cause for the huge fight between Sigurd and Trys). There, Gavin finds a heavier pool of blood and some spatter.

[*]Trys and Cullen pack for their journey. They decide to head out on the road for two days, and then return to town. Marshedge is about eight days’ travel from Stonetop, and they don’t want to be gone that long. Travelling along the road is relatively easy and safe, and in two days’ time they reach the location called Titan Bones. This is an area where traders and travelers commonly gather alongside the road. Nearby is a group of standing stones so large that it’s believed only giants could have placed them.

The players have a Journey before them. They Chart a Course and, as of now, all legs of it are via road; Titan Bones is 2 days from Stonetop via road. That means we don’t need to whip out the actual Perilous Journey conflict mechanics with Roles and related decision-points (because it’s via road and not with a destination in the wilderness). Like Blades in the Dark, the loadout system is Light, Normal, and Heavy. You get boxes for gear/equipment/supplies et al. Obviously, the heavier the load, the more you get. However, with a Heavy load, you're going to suffer disadvantage on trekking when you're having to double-time it in your hoofing because its time-sensitive and any speed-based moves will be at disadvantage. Because of this (this is very time-sensitive...the Garret family from Marshedge is 2 days late and time - in this case Doom Ticks on the Threat - are ticking), they decide to go Normal Load. If they have to continue into the wilderness or further up the road, they'll figure out their supplies then (they have to consume 1 Provision each day, of which they can sub Supplies for that (small items, like Supplies, = 4 + Stonetop Prosperity, which is 1, for each box ticked).

They decide not to make a Requisition move for the 2 Horses + Cart (the combination of which would alleviate the Supplies pressure point for the Journey...except taking it out of Stonetop would mean (a) you're endangering these 2 precious assets, (b) you can't really take them into the wilds of The Flats which is basically like Utah badlands with buttes and canyons et al, and (c) a 7-9 on the move would require convincing and on a 6- they can still take the asset but Stonetop reduces Fortune by 1.

So they each Loadout Normal, mark boxes for the gear they know they're going to use (like armor and weapons, and warm clothes/bedrooll, and save some boxes to mark Supplies for provisioning and for ad hoc-ing in mundane items of use in that they would need in a pinch (like you do in Blades in the Dark).

Because they have to double-time it, its a Struggle As One (group move) Defy Danger Con. One of them gets a 10+ (which would be able to get the other out of a pinch if they got a 6-...which they wouldn't be able to mark xp on if that is how it worked out) and the other got a 7-9 (which means you're able to take care of yourself in the effort). So they're good to go. They arrive in Titan Bones in 2 days to the familiar site of pilgrims/tourists (from Marshedge and surrounding) and various peddlers selling relevant site wares and fortune tellers/soothsayers and tour guides.

[*]Several groups of travelers are here resting, and some merchants are presenting their wares. Cullen wants to ask about the Garrets, and Trys decides to browse the merchants’ wares. Cullen decides it is best to approach a group of pilgrims he sees to ask if they’ve seen a family of five along the road. It doesn’t go well. The leader of the pilgrims sees books and a scrivener’s kit in Cullen’s pack, which the pilgrim considers sorcery. He demands that Cullen leave the area, and camp out in the wilds away from decent folk. Some of the pilgrims present bottles of holy oil, concoctions they believe will protect them from evil spirits and sorcery. They threaten to douse Cullen.

[*]Trys comes over at this point, and with her support, Cullen decides to press forward. He recognizes the apothecary’s mark on one of the bottles, and he knows that the potion within is harmless. He explains to the pilgrims that they’ve been shammed and repeats his question about the Garretts. They douse him and are baffled when the potions have no effect.

[*]The leader stammers an apology and then offers some information on the condition Cullen provides him with a writ of liability that confirms the potions they purchased were fraudulent, and that the apothecary was at fault. Cullen happily executes the writ and provides it to the leader. The man explains that two days back, they had come across a campsite that had been abandoned A cart with some supplies was left behind, and there was even a stewpot still hanging from a spit above the firepit. Clearly whoever did this left in a hurry, or was forced to leave. Cullen and Trys decide to head to the campsite to investigate. They send a note with a traveler back to Stonetop to share with Dap, letting him know they will be a few more days than expected. They’re concerned about running short on supplies, but are confident they’ll be able to forage for what they need, if necessary.

This scene features the following sequence:

Defy Danger Cha to consort with the pilgrims, ingratiating themselves so that they might follow up with finding out what this group of travelers may know of the Garret family (result 6 so hard move and mark xp).

I escalate the situation with them noting Cullen's books and scrivener's kit. We've already established that the people of Marshedge are prone to believe in foul sorcery and witchcraft at the drop of a hat. Literate folks/reading/writing and the related implements are obviously a sign of it. They pull out vials and threaten to "let fly" onto Cullen, the contents of which are caustic to vial sorcerers like him. He must leave this entire site immediately and camp in the wilderness (which comes with increased danger and requires a Make Camp move).

Cullen's player deploys his Well Read move (name the source in which you read about the matter at hand - he names the book and sub +Wis for +Int on a Know Things move) to make a Know Things move. The result is 10+. So both Interesting and Useful information.

The vials bear the clear brand of a Marshedge Apothecary who is an absolute charlatan (but well-connected so rarely is held liable for his snakeoil salesman-itude). These vials of anti-sorcery contents are absolute nonsense. He has nothing to fear.

He puts this to good use in a Parley move which he has advantage. He stands firm, tells them he has nothing to fear as they've been had by a known charlatan. He then firmly asks them about the Garret family. He gets a 7-9 result so they're going to need something from him in the exchange.

They want a Writ of Liability against the Marshedge Apothecary to take it before their local magistrate. Cullen will have to spend 1 Supply in order to meet this demand. He agrees to do so in exchange for what they know about the Garret family (see above).


They have their information + down 1 Supply + they'll get a message to Stonetop (these pilgrims are traveling there to resupply) + they aren't driven from Titan Bones to have to Make Camp in the wild.

Related, they've made some possible friends in Marshedge (the pilgrims) and a likely complication (the well-connected apothecary as charlatan) when they invariably travel to Marshedge.




Alright, enough for tonight.

Thanks again @hawkeyefan !
 
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  • During her time on watch, Trys hears a horse approaching the camp. Hoping that it’s a sign of the Garretts, and being comfortable with horses from her work as a smith, she calls to the horse to bring it into the camp. Unfortunately, her calls are met with mocking imitations, and instead three Hillfolk women enter the camp, spears aimed at Trys.
  • The women wear ominous headdresses, adorned with the hourglass symbol often seen on black widow spiders. They threaten Trys and say she can either join them, or she can feel their spears. They also gesture toward Cullen, who is just now waking, and hint at a much worse fate for him.
  • Cullen reaches for his hammer, hoping to spring up before they can do anything, but he’s a good distance away, and Trys decides she’s heard enough, and draws her sword. The Hillfolk had the jump on her, and they wound her, but her armor spares her the worst. She then unleashes a brutal attack on them, and although she takes another small wound, she makes short work of all three.
  • Cullen, amazed at her skill and her brutality, looks at the Hillfolk women and recognizes them as a tribe with a name that translates only to “Maneaters”. They’re a particularly aggressive tribe of Hillfolk women who take male prisoners who they mate with and then consume.
  • The horse slowly calms and lets them lead it away so they can make a new camp. It is emaciated, but its saddlebags mark it as a domesticated animal, very likely belonging to the Garretts. Trys and Cullen worry that the Garretts have been taken by this tribe, and decide to seek answers in the light of day. For now, this is where we leave them.

Alright, let me resolve this and then I'll get to particulars of Dap and Gavin and their Triumphant Return after banishing The Dark Below, saving Fang from death, and adjuring the devils of Sigurd's worst nature.

* They Make Camp in a dangerous wilderness and set watch. So we have 2 Supply turned into Provisions for each PC (so 4 Supply total - 1 for each day).

* We need to find out who is going to be the PC on watch when whatever happens (if something does) when I make my Disclaim Decisions move to find out if anything approaches camp (a Danger or a Discovery). The means to do this is 1d6 w/ the orthodox spread of 1-2 = bad (Danger), 3-4 = mixed (TBD Danger/Discovery or both), 5-6 = pretty good (Discovery).

(a) The players choose Trys when they Set Watch and (b) the 1d6 turns up a 1 (so Danger).

I describe the labored sounds of clippety-clopping of horse hooves in the shallow ravine beneath their camp (think Utah badlands with almost butte like hills and labyrinthine ravines that can flash flood and dry up immediately). They can't see the horse as there is an overhang on the ridge line they occupy which is obscuring the beast in the ravine...but they know its there.

(b) Trys attempts to call it with the typical horse call. Defy Danger (Cha) = 6- and mark xp.

My move here is that this horse was a distraction while 3 (all female) hunters of a Hillfolk tribe stalk into their camp, spears leading. They make a similar call to Trys, mocking her, as she turns to see them with threatening spears in her face.

* Cullen awakes to hear the exchange between the 4 women. The 3 Hillfolk admire her obvious warrior disposition, advise her to either join them or leave without looking back, and they'll claim the "good stock male."

With this exchange, Cullen makes another Know Things move with his Well Read playbook move (sub Wis for Int). Unfortunately, he gets a 6- so he marks xp and its some terrible news. This tribe is one of the few Hill Folk tribes that are known for their brutality (the Hill Folk are distributed hunter/gatherer tribes of varying dispositions and beliefs in The Flats and the Steplands; the lands that flank Stonetop to the east). All females, they bear the markings and behavior of The Black Widow spider. They capture men of good stock to breed with then the coming pregnancy (or pregnancies) is/are consummated and "blessed" by eating the male entirely. They have no use for males not of good stock nor females who are incapable of helping them/won't acquiesce to their ways.

So this is very bad news and 1 Grim Portent toward the Impending Doom (1/3) of this threat and the ultimate fate of the Garret family. So something bad has already happened due to this result/reveal, but things are still in the balance.

* Trys has heard enough. They have the jump on her and they're in range. She decides that she isn't going to bother trying to make a move to defend herself from their incoming attacks so I have to follow through on my soft move with a hard move (deal damage). She's drawing her sword and laying them low. So procedurally this is:

1) Deal their damage which 1d6 base +2 for the 2 others. It doesn't amount to much (4 I believe) and her 2 Armor soaks the worst of it.

2) Clash to resolve the melee exchange in Close (tag) range. She gets a 7-9 so she deals her damage (to each because they are in range) and she eats the same counterattack as above.

2a) She takes 3 damage this time (5-2 armor).

2b) She gets 4 or more damage on each of her damage rolls (they have 4 damage), cleaving the 3 warriors into warrior-pieces.





@hawkeyefan asked me what I would have done if Trys' Defy Danger (Cha) move with the horse call. I considered that and said the following:

7-9 = Horse responds but there are signs of a struggle but no rider. It bears either its own blood from a wound or the blood of a rider. I'm ticking a Grim Portent here still and the fiction is we have signs that the family is in trouble (bad), but nothing immediate. Further, they also have the horse here that could become an asset if they can recover it (its down in the ravine below them) and resolve its terrible condition (an opportunity).

10+ = The horse responds and there is a rider. One of the two young daughters is on the horse and she is unconscious in the saddle. The two of them are nearing death by way of exposure. No Grim Portent ticked here but we've got both an opportunity (recover the horse and resolve its health as an asset and recover the girl and resolve her flagging health and find out what happened to the family) and a potential liability in the horse and the young child.
 


pemerton

Legend
I don't know this system beyond what I've read in this thread. @Manbearcat's account of play just upthread conveys clearly enough how it is a PbtA-variant. (And I realise that was posted earlier as well. But the more recent post actually spells out some of the details of that.)

Because it's @Manbearcat, who's all-DitV-all-of-the-time, we have a homesteader villager family and their horses and wagons lost.

But what most struck me in @hawkeyefan's recount was the episode with the father and the dog. It's very personal, even intimate. That same sort of focus (or at least the possibility of that sort of focus) is one of the things I love about Burning Wheel. I think it's good to have more of this in RPGing. There's enough Marvel Cinematic or Star Trek-reboot style fiction in the world without we RPGers needing to create more of it!

A technical question - how (if at all) does the system handle the split party, in terms of the actions, choices and consequences of one group ramifying back onto the others. This is something that I've never fully mastered as a GM, although MHRP/Cortex+ Heroic makes it a thing because the Doom Pool is common even if the PCs are separated. (And conversely: I think it's an elelgant feature of Torchbearer that it comes right out and says that splitting the party makes no difference in the Adventure Phase and isn't permitted for Camp or Town phase.)
 

I don't know this system beyond what I've read in this thread. @Manbearcat's account of play just upthread conveys clearly enough how it is a PbtA-variant. (And I realise that was posted earlier as well. But the more recent post actually spells out some of the details of that.)

Because it's @Manbearcat, who's all-DitV-all-of-the-time, we have a homesteader villager family and their horses and wagons lost.

I was waiting for this from you!

But what most struck me in @hawkeyefan's recount was the episode with the father and the dog. It's very personal, even intimate. That same sort of focus (or at least the possibility of that sort of focus) is one of the things I love about Burning Wheel. I think it's good to have more of this in RPGing. There's enough Marvel Cinematic or Star Trek-reboot style fiction in the world without we RPGers needing to create more of it!

A technical question - how (if at all) does the system handle the split party, in terms of the actions, choices and consequences of one group ramifying back onto the others. This is something that I've never fully mastered as a GM, although MHRP/Cortex+ Heroic makes it a thing because the Doom Pool is common even if the PCs are separated. (And conversely: I think it's an elelgant feature of Torchbearer that it comes right out and says that splitting the party makes no difference in the Adventure Phase and isn't permitted for Camp or Town phase.)

Yeah, we all agreed that it was particularly interesting that Trys' player decided that her situation with her father was too raw, too volatile for her to confront. When she asked her friends to look into his disappearance without her, we were all taken in by the idea.

I don't know if you've seen Deadwood (yes, more Western references from me!)? This game has a very Deadwood feel to me personally (despite it being set in a fantasy Iron/Bronze Age crucible). Every person in the village matters. Who they are. What they do. How their shoes can't just be filled by another. The system pushes that and decisions feed back into that.

So the way split-party action > consequences impact everyone is a few ways:

1) Affecting Stonetop (its personnel and its sensitivity to that personnel/assets/statistics directly, forcing Steading moves which may create new fiction/affect stats-by-proxy, or creating new Threats that will emerge to potentially compromise those things, or manifesting Grim Portents of existing Threats) which (like the Crew in Blades) is its own character.

2) Affecting the manifestation of Grim Portents toward Impending Dooms (filling boxes until the Doom tolls) when the configuration of one group's fiction <> moves & results makes sense to amplify/impact the Threats that the other group is presently dealing with.

(2) is a delicate matter as there are temporal, spatial, fictional positioning, and thematic constraints in play here. So a GM will have to be extremely shrewd and skillful in incorporating all the constituent parts in their decision-making process. And if the players don't love the move, they should express that. Sometimes (as we both know!) a GM thinks a move is particularly shrewd and skillful (masterfully threading that needle in the first sentence) and one or more players don't feel it.
 


@Manbearcat - thanks for the (1) and (2) responses.

(2) reminds me - in very general terms, not specifics of either the technical implementation or all of the sorts of judgements required - of the MHRP Doom Pool.

You compared (1) to BitD. It also made me think of HeroWars/Quest, which has rules for how settlements change in response to what the heroes do.

Both very apt!

Here is a Steading Improvement:

TOWNSHIP.JPG


Imagine that after the present adventure, you have the customary (unless a Threat is immediately upon you to dictate otherwise) week or more downtime (the time required to level up or tick this kind of Steading Improvement). Every one of these prerequisites are going to be met as a result of the coming adventure.

Except...

Oops...a Threat that is in play ticks all of its Grim Portents and triggers an Impending Doom that attacks one of these requirements while the groups (or two groups if its split-party) is away doing their adventuring (also due to their adventuring as its the downstream effect of either (a) a move result or (b) a soft move ignored). However, you have foreseen this possibility so before you left you Mustered the populace against the Threat manifesting in the interim:

MUSTER
When you press every able body into the defense of a steading, reduce Fortunes by 1 and roll +Population:

On a 7+, the steading is alert and ready for action, increasing Defenses by 1 for as long as the muster holds; on a 10+, also pick 2; on a 7-9, also pick 1.

  • Everyone’s willing to pitch in; don’t reduce the town’s Fortunes after all
  • The muster holds together as long as the threat lasts, even without your presence
  • 1 or 2 individuals show real potential; ask the GM who and how

You've got +2 Population (remember you need to have it +2 for 4 consecutive seasons). Except...your made move results in a 6-. That 6- means that one of the requirements above is caput. Now, one of those things is lost and Stonetop has not ascended to Township status...

That is...unless one of the players has gained enough and retained enough xp to Burn Brightly or one of the players has a currency (like the Judge's Diligence) that lets you expend it to gain a +1 on a move a player just made (turning a 6- into a 7-9 or a 7-9 into a 10+). In this case, it would be akin to a Blades Flashback where you moralized a member of Stonetop to rise to just such an occasion or reinforced the inner wall to hold with your uncle the stonemason or a miracle or some such.
 


@Manbearcat

I don't want to divert your thread too much from its focus. But I think the difference between what you've set out in your post just upthread, and the rules for turning camps into settlements and the economics rules in the Torchbearer Lore Master's Manual, help illustrate why I don't see Torchbearer as "story now" (which is not a criticism of Torchbearer!).

You're fine!

When I have some solid time to dedicate to the effort + coinciding cognitive horsepower, I'm going to make a post about this subject exactly. I'm going to discuss the following things:

* System-wise, what makes up the constituent parts of Story Now games vs Step On Up games. Then I'm going to pull back and evaluate how those constituent parts (a) differ (subtly often) and (b) coalesce to create each's particular agenda for play and attendant experience by each participant.

* What is the cognitive workspace that each participant inhabits in this two types of games. How do they differ and, very importantly, is it possible (or probable) that increased experience/understanding with a system that is all three of (i) intricate, (ii) extremely Skilled Play intensive, and (iii) thematically robust (meaning framing and consequences and incentive structures are inextricably tethered to theme and premise) and demanding can drift from an initial orientation by the participants of Step On Up more toward Story Now?


This last part is very interesting to me. I think the divergent experiences of 4e has some purchase here. I think my experiences in GMing Torchbearer with veteran TB players vs new TB players has a tale to tell here. I think the differences of Mouse Guard and Torchbearer have a whole lot of purchase here (as we've discussed prior) because if you excised the intricacy and extreme Skilled Play intensiveness of Torchbearer, you would land squarely on Mouse Guard (which is no surprise as TB was birthed from MG's engine!).

Because you've mentioned it, I'll also discuss the differences between Stonetop's steading rules and integration vs TB2's LM rules for building out a Camp into a (hopefully persistent) steading.

Anyhoo, I'll get to that at some point in the future and when I do, I'll let you know!
 

[*]Back in Stonetop, Dap and Gavin discover signs that Fang was attacked near to his home; there’s a small pool of blood, and then a trail that leads to the north gate. Dap attempts to calm a frantic Eli and tells the boy that there is still hope the dog is okay.
[*]They also learn from Pryce, the owner of the public house, that there were some trappers who came in spoke of a man heading out of the north gate and muttering something about “one life for another”. It seems this was Sigurd. They now suspect that the missing blacksmith and the missing dog are related, and that Sigurd attacked and absconded with Fang.
[*]Outside the north gate, Gavin and his wolf Thorin quickly find Sigurd’s tracks heading down the switchbacks toward the Great Forest. Dap and Gavin supply themselves and then head out in pursuit.
[*]They find a campsite where they believe Sigurd may have stayed the night before. Gavin uses his Spirit Tongue ability to locate a nearby line of proud trees, whose spirits are the sentinels of the forest. Gavin calls the spirits forth and asks them about the man who came through here. The spirits of the trees say that the man who passed this way is heading toward darkness, and that he has darkness within him.

I'll just copy/paste what led us to the front of Eli and Aedelfred's house to the signs of Fang being attacked near the home:

Gavin makes a move at the north gate to Seek Insight, rolling +Wis. He's got one of his 3 wolves with him (the others are herding the goats as is their responsibility). His wolf has Keen Senses as a tag, so he can smell blood et al; advantage on the move. Gets a 10 so 3 questions and Advantage when acting upon an answer. He only asks 2. What he finds:

A trail of blood at he north gate leads both into The Great Wood and into Stonetop, terminating in front of the house of Eli and his brother Aedelfred (the bellows-pump who was the primary cause for the huge fight between Sigurd and Trys). There, Gavin finds a heavier pool of blood and some spatter.

Dap decides to go to the public house where the collective and any travelers gather in the morning for breakfast/daily communion to see if anyone saw anything (sort of a Consort Action roll in Blades Parlance or a Streetwise in 4e etc). This triggered a Know Things move using Stonetop's Population +0 resulting in 7-9 (something interesting...its on the players to make it useful).

Father Bryce relays to Dap that he heard two Trappers from out of town spotted Sigurd with the walking stick and sack and mumbling to himself about a sacrifice?

The trappers are still there eating their breakast. Dap decides what he has learned is informative enough so he doesn't press the matter by attempting to consort with the two trappers for further information.

Dap and Gavin load out (I didn't mention above, but this move is called Outfit) for their potentially day long exploration of the cliffs and The Great Wood wilderness to the north. They bring Thorin the wolf with them and Dap brings his trusty lantern and source of invocations with him to literally and symbolically light the way (more on that later).

The trek down the cliffs is a dizzying series of switchbacks and it takes a good chunk of the rest of the morning and afternoon to get into the ascending hills of The Great Wood. The trek through the wood is arduous and brutal. It doesn't affect Gavin as he has Trackless Step (he makes no sound, leaves no trace, and hindering and treacherous terrain does not impact him negatively) but if they want to gain on Sigurd and catch him before something terrible happens, they need to increase their pace relative to his. He uses his Stock to mark his companions so they are similarly blessed by Danu with Trackless Step (Level +Int mod so 2 other companions can be marked). Because of this, they make tremendous time to the ridgeline.

There, they find Sigurd's relatively fresh camp with embers and cinders of his firepit still aglow and smoldering.

Great, ancient trees of the forest dot the ridge line. Gavin pulls out his pouch and marks them with 1 more Stock and uses Call the Spirits to communicate with the ancient primal spirits of the trees.

When you perform a short ritual and invoke the spirit(s) of a place or object, spend 1 Stock. The spirit(s) manifest before you and will hear what you have to say. What they do next is up to them.

The trees tell them that their friend has been seduced by The Dark Below, a terrible entity that has whispered promises into the vulnerable hearts of men for an age and more...for a steep price. Their friend has a terrible burden and a vulnerable heart filled with anger and sorrow. They'll find him making his offering to The Dark Below not far from here.

They have what they want so they thank the ancient spirits and press on, easily picking up his trail (again Seek Insight + Advantage). Dap, having confirmed that Trys's visions of terrible things moving underfoot is, in fact, true is glad to have his lantern in his hand and his God of Light's invocations in his breast. He will put them both to good use in the battle against both the real and symbolic darkness to come.
 

pemerton

Legend
What is the cognitive workspace that each participant inhabits in this two types of games. How do they differ and, very importantly, is it possible (or probable) that increased experience/understanding with a system that is all three of (i) intricate, (ii) extremely Skilled Play intensive, and (iii) thematically robust (meaning framing and consequences and incentive structures are inextricably tethered to theme and premise) and demanding can drift from an initial orientation by the participants of Step On Up more toward Story Now?

This last part is very interesting to me. I think the divergent experiences of 4e has some purchase here.
I think skilled play can manifest in multiple ways.

4e demands skilled play in the sense that it is a technically dense game. If you don't get on top of the technicalities, you will never really get on top of 4e play (it seems to me). But once you do so, following the technicalities will lead you (in my view) into relatively light "story now" play.

Burning Wheel is technically probably a bit less demanding than 4e,but still pretty demanding. Once you master those technicalities, following them will lead you straight into pretty intense "story now" play.

It's possible to have story now play arise out of a system that is technically very "lite" and hence doesn't demand mastery in order to have the game play properly. Prince Valiant is my poster-child for this. Cthuhlu Dark, at least on some approaches to it, serves as another example.

And it's possible to have a system by technically rather "lite" but nevertheless demand a type of skilled play that foregrounds cooperation between PCs, expedience in decision-making, and overcoming challenges, such that "story now" play is unlikely to emerge. Moldvay Basic I think exemplifies this. (Even its spellcasting is technically pretty lite compared to modern versions of D&D.)

With Torchbearer, I see the same technical density as is present in 4e and BW. So it demands skilled play in that sense. But I also see the foregrounding of cooperation between PCs, and of expedience in decision-making (eg, and just as one example - the trinkets an orphan inherits from their parents have a value denominated in cash dice terms; the contrast with Burning Wheel emerges straight away at this point), and the focus on overcoming challenges, which makes me feel that it is closer to Moldvay Basic than to BW or 4e in terms of the play it is apt to engender.

Perhaps at higher levels, the player-side resources change enough to alter this in ways I'm not anticipating. Which would be interesting in itself, because I think classic D&D aspired to this but I'm not sure it ever pulled it off.
 

  • They press on, and before long they come to a clearing. There’s an unsettling feeling, and the moonlight from above does not quite touch this place. They see Sigurd kneeling in the clearing, and holding Fang in one hand, and a knife in the other, preparing to sacrifice the dog.
  • Gavin’s wolf Thorin doesn’t respond well to the feeling of this place, and aggressively charges the clearing, hoping to place himself between whatever is there and Gavin. A pool of darkness forms before Sigurd, swirling and manifesting into an inky phantom. Its long arms end in wicked claws, and it looks ready to greet the charging Thorin. It’s clearly a thing of darkness, an evil spirit or a demon.
  • Dap steps forth with his lantern and Invokes the Sun God, blasting the area with radiant light. Sigurd falls in the clearing, and the inky entity recoils, unable to eviscerate the charging wolf.
  • Gavin uses his Danu’s Grasp ability, calling on the primal forces here to reach out and bind this foul spirit. The roots and vines and the very earth itself grasps hold of the fiend, harming it and forcing it to discorporate. As it fades away, Gavin and Dap know that it hasn’t been destroyed, it is the Dark Underfoot, and it has only been temporarily thwarted.
  • Sigurd realizes with horror what he has done and bursts out in tears. Dap quickly uses Bath of Healing Light on Fang, and manages to save the dog from death. He then turns to Sigurd and asks for answers. Sigurd admits, to his shame, that he still grieves his lost wife, who died giving birth to Trys. He’d always wanted a son, but instead got a daughter and lost his wife in the process. He somehow believed that this dark entity could give him a life for a life, his wife’s for his daughters. The sacrifice of Fang was just an initial step on that path.
  • Dap uses his Spring’s First Thaw on Sigurd, inspiring him with hope and mercy. He reminds Sigurd that Trys is his one connection to the wife he had, and he should honor that connection and not seek to corrupt it in some way. Sigurd swears he will do so, and begs Dap to help him, to guide him toward being a better person and a better father, and Dap agrees to do so.
  • Dap and Gavin then Return Triumphantly to Stonetop, having recovered the missing blacksmith, and also saved the missing dog.

* Now knowing that they're dealing with a supernatural creature of darkness, Dap whispers words of Consecration to a Flame (his lantern) which now emits a holy light, causing creatures of darkness extreme discomfort to look upon it (it lasts until the flame goes out or you consecrate another flame...no move resolution).

As of this point, their Adventure has gone as perfectly as they (Dap, Gavin, and Trys initially) could hope. Since the Threat was introduced with the Spring Breaks Forth move, they've aggressively pursued it, not had any 6- results that made sense to tick a Grim Portents toward Impending Doom if the PCs don't resolve first.

* So I framed the scene as @hawkeyefan depicted above. Mechanically, I took advantage of Thorin's (Gavin's wolf) tags (overprotective, fierce) and Instinct (to bark and threaten) to frame the scene with a soft move; Thorin, unnerved by the unnatural corruption before him and sure it is a threat to Dap, begins barking and threatening...his posture tells us he's going to lunge into the clearing to confront The Dark Below if not brought to heel.

Now, although this is only a "minor" manifestation powerful supernatural entity, it could still very plausibly eviscerate poor Thorin (1d8 +2 damage, ignores armor vs 6 hp).

* Gavin attempts to bring Thorin to heel with an Order Followers move to bring Thorin to heel; 6- (mark xp). Thorin isn't having any part of it. He recklessly rushes into the clearing to confront the inky puddle that is coalescing into a terrible form akin to a Xenomorph from Aliens though featureless face and long spindly arms ending in wicked claws. It has Reach to Thorin's Close so I'm just going to straight up deal damage to Thorin if they can't intervene somehow. Ordinarily, wading into melee when you have a reach (tag) disadvantage would require either (a) eating the damage, (b) a playbook specific move, or (c) Defy Danger. But this is a follower, and in this case, the Order Followers move result tells us that Thorin is recklessly charging in (so he's just eating that damage to get in range to Clash). Order Followers failed, they don't have any capacity to Defend at range.

* Enter Dap who pulls forth his lantern and Invokes the Sun God w/ Hold Back the Darkness (ongoing); roll +Wis. He gets a 7-9 which means it works but both the player and I choose a consequence. So, in order of operations:

1) GM consequence: the effort taxes you, mark a debility. The intensity of the coronal flash saps all of your strength; Weakened (disadv on Str and Dex).

2) Player response to GM consequence. Dap grasps one of his 3 Holy Relics during the channeling of the consecration (mark a use when Invoking the Sun God in lieu of a complication) and he holds firm against the coronal flare's effects.

3) Player chooses consequences. Reduced Effect for Hold Back the Darkness. Creatures of darkness will recoil from the light and cannot approach (and will also deal damage with disadvantage while bathed in the light) but Dap must maintain an unbroken litany of prayers or the coronal flare is snuffed (so if he voluntarily does something that would break these prayers or I break them with an attack, Hold Back the Darkness ends). Both The Dark Below and Sigurd recoil from the judgement of the light, with Sigurd dropping the knife and the limp body of Fang (which he was preparing to sacrifice).

4) He has the consecration active, but the range on the lantern is not sufficient to cause the creature to recoil and protect Thorin. So he has to make a move to rush the clearing. Because this is basically a coronal flare that should extend the range of the light, I give @Ovinomancer advantage on his Defy Danger Dex to act quickly and get in the clearing to protect Thorin with his light. He gets a 10! Dap rushes the clearing with his consecrated light and the creature recoils protecting Thorin from his own recklessness (so I don't deal damage to Thorin for the reach differential). If we would have gotten to a Clash move for Thorin and it would have yielded a counterattack against Thorin, I would be dealing damage with disadvantage (so w(2d8) +2) because of Hold Back the Darkness.

* With the manifestation of the Dark Below reeling from the consecrated light, Gavin spends 1 Stock to call upon Danu to bind a spirit or perversion of nature (Danu's Grasp +Wis). He gets a 7-9 which is reduced effect so he only chooses 1 from his list. He chooses 2d4 damage (no armor) and, remarkably, gets an 8. The Dark Below discorporates as it tangles with the primal magic-infused earth and plants pulls the struggling shadowy flitting tendrils back underfoot.

The clearing is free of its unnatural taint. All that is left is Sigurd, an admixture of defeat and sorrow and rage on his face.

* The rest is as above. In order:

1) Fang is near death so he is priority. Dap Aided by Gavin's laying of hands and primal magics (so Advantage) uses Bath of Healing Light to save Fang. He gets a 10+ so the invocation heals him and resolves his problematic wound; Fang survives.

2) Sigurd (myself as GM) and Dap (@Ovinomancer converse for a time about what has happened her and what has animated Sigurd, about Sigurd's burden, about Sigurd's shame. Given what has transpired here and the way that it has gone down, I'm not going to make a soft move off of Sigurd's instinct or tags. The player gets to dictate the scene and then I'll escalate once a move is triggered on their part if that move result requires a move from me. Doesn't happen.

Dap is gentle and kind and understanding and engages him with the prospect of atonement and absolution. He makes his Spring's First Thaw move and gets a 10+!

When you spend time (an hour at least, maybe more) seeking to stir hope, kindness, or mercy in an NPC, roll +CHA: on a 10+, you light a fire deep within them and affect a lasting change;

Sigurd becomes a follower of Dap and Helior.

Sigurd (widowed father, intimidating, volatile, stubborn, lost and found, smithing-wise)
HP: 8; Armor 1
Damage: d6 Hammer (Close)
Instinct: To defeat his dark affliction
Cost: Consistent absolution
Loyalty: +1

*
Basically this was a home run. Miraculously, this threat was resolved with no Grim Portents ticked at all and everything turned out perfectly. A pillar of the community (you can't just replace your Blacksmith - they're a key asset of Stonetop) returns and redeemed at that and the beloved Fang returns very much alive.

The five of them Return Triumphant; When you return home in triumph, having saved your fellows, put down the threat, seized an opportunity, etc., increase the steading’s Fortunes by 1 (to a max of +3).

Stonetop is now Fortunes +2.
 
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So a quick thought:

The D&D 4e is very, very, very strong with this game (not surprising given Strandberg's affinity for D&D 4e):

* The Points of Light setting with the admixture of primal nature, fey powers/legends, and the thematic portfolio of the deities and how that is injected into the playbooks (the Themes, Paths, Epic Destinies of 4e as well as the Classes and Powers).

* The Lightbearer is the 4e Invoker. The Marshal is the 4e Warlord. The Blessed is the Protector Druid. The Seeker is a good version of the Seeker + a Theme/Path. The Would-Be-Hero is an amalgamation of Theme/Path. The Judge is kinda Paladin meets a Theme/Path. Heavy = the Berserker Fighter build with all the relevant Powers that were so very 4e (and some Theme and Path for Background diversity). Same goes for Fox (Rogue) and Ranger.

All of these classes are an admixture of 4e builds with either Theme and Path in by default or mapped into Background allowing further customization. The Character Themes and Paragon Paths of 4e were so rich and diverse (and plenty). Strandberg et al did a really great job of picking the most interesting ones to build out these playbooks to create deeply thematically diverse, potent archetypes.

I kinda wish we had a Marshal, but I love these 4 characters so far. Session 1 was awesome. Looking forward to future sessions.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
* Now knowing that they're dealing with a supernatural creature of darkness, Dap whispers words of Consecration to a Flame (his lantern) which now emits a holy light, causing creatures of darkness extreme discomfort to look upon it (it lasts until the flame goes out or you consecrate another flame...no move resolution).

As of this point, their Adventure has gone as perfectly as they (Dap, Gavin, and Trys initially) could hope. Since the Threat was introduced with the Spring Breaks Forth move, they've aggressively pursued it, not had any 6- results that made sense to tick a Grim Portents toward Impending Doom if the PCs don't resolve first.

* So I framed the scene as @hawkeyefan depicted above. Mechanically, I took advantage of Thorin's (Dap's wolf) tags (overprotective, fierce) and Instinct (to bark and threaten) to frame the scene with a soft move; Thorin, unnerved by the unnatural corruption before him and sure it is a threat to Dap, begins barking and threatening...his posture tells us he's going to lunge into the clearing to confront The Dark Below if not brought to heel.

Now, although this is only a "minor" manifestation powerful supernatural entity, it could still very plausibly eviscerate poor Thorin (1d8 +2 damage, ignores armor vs 6 hp).

* Gavin attempts to bring Thorin to heel with an Order Followers move to bring Thorin to heel; 6- (mark xp). Thorin isn't having any part of it. He recklessly rushes into the clearing to confront the inky puddle that is coalescing into a terrible form akin to a Xenomorph from Aliens though featureless face and long spindly arms ending in wicked claws. It has Reach to Thorin's Close so I'm just going to straight up deal damage to Thorin if they can't intervene somehow. Ordinarily, wading into melee when you have a reach (tag) disadvantage would require either (a) eating the damage, (b) a playbook specific move, or (c) Defy Danger. But this is a follower, and in this case, the Order Followers move result tells us that Thorin is recklessly charging in (so he's just eating that damage to get in range to Clash). Order Followers failed, they don't have any capacity to Defend at range.

* Enter Dap who pulls forth his lantern and Invokes the Sun God w/ Hold Back the Darkness (ongoing); roll +Wis. He gets a 7-9 which means it works but both the player and I choose a consequence. So, in order of operations:

1) GM consequence: the effort taxes you, mark a debility. The intensity of the coronal flash saps all of your strength; Weakened (disadv on Str and Dex).

2) Player response to GM consequence. Dap grasps one of his 3 Holy Relics during the channeling of the consecration (mark a use when Invoking the Sun God in lieu of a complication) and he holds firm against the coronal flare's effects.

3) Player chooses consequences. Reduced Effect for Hold Back the Darkness. Creatures of darkness will recoil from the light and cannot approach (and will also deal damage with disadvantage while bathed in the light) but Dap must maintain an unbroken litany of prayers or the coronal flare is snuffed (so if he voluntarily does something that would break these prayers or I break them with an attack, Hold Back the Darkness ends). Both The Dark Below and Sigurd recoil from the judgement of the light, with Sigurd dropping the knife and the limp body of Fang (which he was preparing to sacrifice).

4) He has the consecration active, but the range on the lantern is not sufficient to cause the creature to recoil and protect Thorin. So he has to make a move to rush the clearing. Because this is basically a coronal flare that should extend the range of the light, I give @Ovinomancer advantage on his Defy Danger Dex to act quickly and get in the clearing to protect Thorin with his light. He gets a 10! Dap rushes the clearing with his consecrated light and the creature recoils protecting Thorin from his own recklessness (so I don't deal damage to Thorin for the reach differential). If we would have gotten to a Clash move for Thorin and it would have yielded a counterattack against Thorin, I would be dealing damage with disadvantage (so w(2d8) +2) because of Hold Back the Darkness.

* With the manifestation of the Dark Below reeling from the consecrated light, Gavin spends 1 Stock to call upon Danu to bind a spirit or perversion of nature (Danu's Grasp +Wis). He gets a 7-9 which is reduced effect so he only chooses 1 from his list. He chooses 2d4 damage (no armor) and, remarkably, gets an 8. The Dark Below discorporates as it tangles with the primal magic-infused earth and plants pulls the struggling shadowy flitting tendrils back underfoot.

The clearing is free of its unnatural taint. All that is left is Sigurd, an admixture of defeat and sorrow and rage on his face.

* The rest is as above. In order:

1) Fang is near death so he is priority. Dap Aided by Gavin's laying of hands and primal magics (so Advantage) uses Bath of Healing Light to save Fang. He gets a 10+ so the invocation heals him and resolves his problematic wound; Fang survives.

2) Sigurd (myself as GM) and Dap (@Ovinomancer converse for a time about what has happened her and what has animated Sigurd, about Sigurd's burden, about Sigurd's shame. Given what has transpired here and the way that it has gone down, I'm not going to make a soft move off of Sigurd's instinct or tags. The player gets to dictate the scene and then I'll escalate once a move is triggered on their part if that move result requires a move from me. Doesn't happen.

Dap is gentle and kind and understanding and engages him with the prospect of atonement and absolution. He makes his Spring's First Thaw move and gets a 10+!

When you spend time (an hour at least, maybe more) seeking to stir hope, kindness, or mercy in an NPC, roll +CHA: on a 10+, you light a fire deep within them and affect a lasting change;

Sigurd becomes a follower of Dap and Helior.

Sigurd (widowed father, intimidating, volatile, stubborn, lost and found, smithing-wise)
HP: 8; Armor 1
Damage: d6 Hammer (Close)
Instinct: To defeat his dark affliction
Cost: Consistent absolution
Loyalty: +1

*
Basically this was a home run. Miraculously, this threat was resolved with no Grim Portents ticked at all and everything turned out perfectly. A pillar of the community (you can't just replace your Blacksmith - they're a key asset of Stonetop) returns and redeemed at that and the beloved Fang returns very much alive.

The five of them Return Triumphant; When you return home in triumph, having saved your fellows, put down the threat, seized an opportunity, etc., increase the steading’s Fortunes by 1 (to a max of +3).

Stonetop is now Fortunes +2.
Only correction is to 2 in the Hold Back the Darkness move -- I invoked my Auspicious Birth background, which allows me to ignore 1 complication if it occurs due to a move or invocation, not the relics, which do the same thing.

Otherwise, laid out like this, it's pretty clear Dap and Gavin had some excellent dice luck here. Good moves made, but some clutch rolls, too.
 

Only correction is to 2 in the Hold Back the Darkness move -- I invoked my Auspicious Birth background, which allows me to ignore 1 complication if it occurs due to a move or invocation, not the relics, which do the same thing.

Otherwise, laid out like this, it's pretty clear Dap and Gavin had some excellent dice luck here. Good moves made, but some clutch rolls, too.

Gotcha.

These playbooks have so much capacity to resist Consequences and shape play (more Blades in the Dark tech). You've got all of these abilities to resist raw complication from your invocations and you've got the ability to resist a Debility specifically with your Background. Couple that with Burn Brightly, the Judge's Diligence, and plenty of others sprinkled about.

There is a lot of Blades tech deftly systematized into this game. Players have considerable capability in this game to impose their will through their playbook (and even the base moves like Burn Brightly...and then followers...and then Steading rules/interactions). Much more akin to Blades than prior PBtA instantiations.
 

Only correction is to 2 in the Hold Back the Darkness move -- I invoked my Auspicious Birth background, which allows me to ignore 1 complication if it occurs due to a move or invocation, not the relics, which do the same thing.

Otherwise, laid out like this, it's pretty clear Dap and Gavin had some excellent dice luck here. Good moves made, but some clutch rolls, too.

I think I had missed that. I forgot you failed any rolls at all! You guys had the right tools for the job at hand, for sure, but the dice definitely went your way, as well. What I liked about that is that it didn't feel like an "easy" adventure. The danger seemed to be ever present in a way that a lot of games don't always manage.

Gotcha.

These playbooks have so much capacity to resist Consequences and shape play (more Blades in the Dark tech). You've got all of these abilities to resist raw complication from your invocations and you've got the ability to resist a Debility specifically with your Background. Couple that with Burn Brightly, the Judge's Diligence, and plenty of others sprinkled about.

There is a lot of Blades tech deftly systematized into this game. Players have considerable capability in this game to impose their will through their playbook (and even the base moves like Burn Brightly...and then followers...and then Steading rules/interactions). Much more akin to Blades than prior PBtA instantiations.

Yeah, the more we talk about this, the more obvious this inspiration seems, in both direct ways like the loadout, and indirect ways in how some abilities allow for Push- or Resist-like effects similar to how Blades uses Stress. It gives the players a good deal of influence on how things go.
 

pemerton

Legend
What I liked about that is that it didn't feel like an "easy" adventure. The danger seemed to be ever present in a way that a lot of games don't always manage.
Not to derail again (at least not too much), but what you say here is something I like about Prince Valiant.

Especially when the danger is not just a sense of the size of damage dice relative to hit point totals.
 

Not to derail again (at least not too much), but what you say here is something I like about Prince Valiant.

Especially when the danger is not just a sense of the size of damage dice relative to hit point totals.

Absolutely. Hit points are used in Stonetop, but they’re just one resource that is vulnerable. The GM has several moves they can make, including the move "Hurt Someone". This allows the GM to inflict not just HP damage, but also a lasting debility beyond that (like a broken limb, for example).

In the example of play, the danger seemed mostly related to the NPCs that were involved, the missing dog, Fang, and the blacksmith Sigurd who was to blame for the whole situation, and then also Gavin’s wolf, Thorin, who rushed the creature.

As an observer who wasn’t involved in the scene, I didn't expect all of them to make it out of there. I was less concerned about Gavin and Dap being killed, but because there are other moves the GM can make, I still felt they were at risk even as things started to go well for them. Once the evil spirit manifested, it was clear that the threat it posed was significant. When @Manbearcat used the wolf's traits to establish that it charged the creature, I grimaced, expecting that was the last we'd see of Thorin. Luckily, the rolls all went well (or were otherwise bolstered by playbook abilities). One roll of 6- could have been very bad for them, it seemed. Even a 7-9 or two could have resulted in some serious consequences.

I can't help but think of the two other games I'm currently involved in. One is Spire, which sees harmful and potentially lasting consequences inflicted on the PCs routinely, and so seems at least as dangerous as Stonetop may prove to be. The other is D&D 5e, which uses HP attrition almost exclusively, and so the characters only feel truly in danger once they've collectively been reduced to few HP. Quite the difference.
 

Absolutely. Hit points are used in Stonetop, but they’re just one resource that is vulnerable. The GM has several moves they can make, including the move "Hurt Someone". This allows the GM to inflict not just HP damage, but also a lasting debility beyond that (like a broken limb, for example).

In the example of play, the danger seemed mostly related to the NPCs that were involved, the missing dog, Fang, and the blacksmith Sigurd who was to blame for the whole situation, and then also Gavin’s wolf, Thorin, who rushed the creature.

As an observer who wasn’t involved in the scene, I didn't expect all of them to make it out of there. I was less concerned about Gavin and Dap being killed, but because there are other moves the GM can make, I still felt they were at risk even as things started to go well for them. Once the evil spirit manifested, it was clear that the threat it posed was significant. When @Manbearcat used the wolf's traits to establish that it charged the creature, I grimaced, expecting that was the last we'd see of Thorin. Luckily, the rolls all went well (or were otherwise bolstered by playbook abilities). One roll of 6- could have been very bad for them, it seemed. Even a 7-9 or two could have resulted in some serious consequences.

I can't help but think of the two other games I'm currently involved in. One is Spire, which sees harmful and potentially lasting consequences inflicted on the PCs routinely, and so seems at least as dangerous as Stonetop may prove to be. The other is D&D 5e, which uses HP attrition almost exclusively, and so the characters only feel truly in danger once they've collectively been reduced to few HP. Quite the difference.
Right, there's a lot of ways to parse it. My game goes in the opposite direction. That is, disabilities (afflictions) are a player resource, to a degree. The GM will impose a loss of hit points, and the player can then propose the substitution of an affliction (usually a wound in a combat type situation, but it could be something else). "You fall in the pit and take 12 points of damage", "Oh, I would be dying. Instead I take 4 points (because the character's healing value is 8) and my leg is broken." Afflictions act like other obstacles, you can overcome them as a challenge, but of course failure there opens you up to some new consequence too, so it may be better to live with it in some cases... (not to mention you would probably have to take a recovery, which might not be feasible).

I think 4e (and my own hack of it) is more like BW in the sense that its more 'open' than ST or, especially, TB2. There are a lot of mechanical 'tools', but the process is looser, and I think that may be reflected in @pemerton's statement about 'Step On Up' vs 'Story Now', as he puts it. Perhaps it is my low degree of familiarity with TB2, having only played a couple times, but it seems like mechanics are front-and-center, you think about how do you shape the situation so the narrative emerges that your PC brought out some strong trait or skill vs being driven primarily from the narrative side, which IMHO is more where at least some PbtA and 4e-esque games can come from (but don't always, WotC 4e seemed more totally centered on combat mechanics as most people played it).
 

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