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Why do RPGs have rules?


(He, Him)
Right, so mostly I just look at how play happens. We did a one-shot the other day where 2 of us ran a couple of NPCs that are now about to figure in our regular Stonetop game. So we just quick did them up and ran a kind of kicker scenario for them, like 'how did they start out?' kind of thing.

Now, given what we already know about these NPCs (not too much, they've never been on screen, but one of them has been a behind-the-scenes character, so we know at least what role she's playing in the setting now) we kind of know what sorts of characters they are. Maeve is being portrayed as a 'heavy', her role in our story is as a kind of a menacing thug leader. The other character is her right hand, a mysterious person who may be a sort of priest or hetman, 'The Eye'.

So, we start out located in our original tribe in an area called Manmarch. The GM posses a situation, following general DW/ST GMing principles, though the setup is not quite bog standard Stonetop. Our food supply has up and disappeared, the big elk some hunters brought in is GONE! The Eye starts doing spirit stuff to try to figure out what happened, Maeve takes on her role as a 'heavy' and lends assistance. We meet with some success, we're able to determine that the animal was spirited away by some sort of druidic magic, and we can track it.

Now, The Eye gets a vision of a monstrous cave bear and the message that if we don't stop the bear from eating this elk it will become a real threat, gaining uncanny sustenance. We set off and track the thing down, still mostly getting some decent rolls for tracking and seeing what the situation is.

Eventually we get to a steep drop in front of the bear's cave. Maeve now kicks into full heavy mode (the heavy is a bad-assed fighter) and drops down in front of the cave, a torch in one hand, armor equipped, with a big iron warhammer in the other fist. At this point the magic opposing us picks rolls a wave of icy river water into the cave, and extinguishes Maeve's torch, threatening to drag her under. The Eye tries some magic, canceling half of the effect (I rolled badly for my defy danger move to get into this situation). Now I'm in the dark again, taking cold damage, and slowed down by the water. The bear attacks, I'm now at 1 hit point, and my counter attack, though it works, doesn't kill the bear. Once again the water pulls me back and I go under, and now I'm at 0 hit points!

At this point Maeve gets a 14 on her Death's Door, I tell Death to take a hike and I'm going to kick this druid magic in the arse! I come leaping back out of the water, with my 1 hit point back, and The Eye drops into the cave from above to help me. I kill the bear with a mighty blow, and the people feast on bear meat, while I take the pelt.

So, we have a pretty standard narrative here, in a sense. I mean, you could describe a game using B/X D&D pretty close to the same way, though magic works a bit differently here... Anyway, the point is, consider the DW-esque principles at play here. The scenario was fun, and hazardous for the characters, but interesting. We learned that Maeve is an iron-willed sort of character who gets what she wants. The Eye has some sort of mysterious connection to the spirit world and an agenda of his own. Maybe he's just using Maeve! We will play to find out, even though these are going to be NPCs in the rest of our play.
That makes me curious: what principles do you observe in your example of play?

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That makes me curious: what principles do you observe in your example of play?

One of our three players was on vacation Thursday, so we decided that we'd spend about 1.5 hours (a) generating the 2 x antagonists in the Threat that the PCs will be facing in the upcoming session and (b) playing out some seminal backstory moment such that it might infuse next session's play with something extra.

So we did.

It was 95 % Stonetop (which is DW & Perilous Wilds-iterated and expanded) and 5 % Dungeon World. The only real difference was we subbed in 1 Bond for each PC (which effectively served as the "kickers" that @AbdulAlhazred mentioned above) rather than the complete PC Gen process of "attachments to setting/Stonetop/PCs."

Maeve (Bloodsoaked Past Heavy):

Instinct: To solve problems by force.
Bond: To find a Cave Bear den, slay the mighty beast, and take its pelt (this was connective tissue for the introductory of this NPC into our game)

The Eye (reskinned Vessel of Danu):

Instinct: To demand sacrifice to The Entity.
Bond: To prove to The Entity that my selection of Maeve will bring about its dark designs.

Effectively, this brief session churned out 3 x scenes. There were only a few complex rules interactions where Follow the Rules (which necessitates understanding how they work) would have been an ask above normal difficulty for participants who don't know how these games work generally and Stonetop specifically.

SCENE 1: The Elk is Missing

Ok, at this point I'm just framing a scene in Manmarch where their barbarian clan has woken up to an eerie, fog-covered morning and their huge elk that was to feed the clan for the next day was mysteriously missing. No idea where this is going at this point. This is just primordial ooze of a situation and I want the players to lay down breadcrumbs and I'll follow where they're going.

After The Eye Called the Spirits via Spirit Tongue (eschewing the fire of the chieftan's grand hearth for that of the dense fog) and Maeve bartered with them (via Bloodsoaked Past + Intimidating + Persuade and The Eye's communication intercession) we land on that it appears that Danu has restored the elk into revenant status and it left of its own volition. It left no tracks because of Trackless Steps or because of its newly, Danu-magic infused embodiment. Whatever. No physical tracks. So now we come up with a custom move for The Fog Spirit to track for The Eye and apply the tags we gave to it for its bonus; more or less we reskinned the Ranger move.

SCENE 2: Tracking the Elk Across the Manmarch to the Den Where it Offers Itself.

I'm not breaking this down in any detail. Several moves and fiction later we get find ourselves at the top of the gorge, overlooking the perilous, supernatural-endowed Dread River which serves as the easternmost boundary for Manmarch. They locate a switchback that leads to a landing which will be climbed down by Maeve and rappeled by The Eye. The sounds of violent, disgusting gorging can be heard within the cave under the landing. The Dread River's tidal forces appear to be activating as Maeve enters the cave.

SCENE 3: Slay the Cave Bear, Face the Dread River, Please The Entity, Meet The Lady of Crows Who Hates Danu, Become Chieftan

There were 2 x Follow the Rules moments in this scene that might have tripped up new GM and they both worked in concert:

1) Maeve became stuck by the supernatural, tarry goop of The Dread River (grabby) after The Eye's Amulets and Talismans protections against the river only partially worked. The Cave Bear was then rushing her (1d10 +4, large, close, forceful, messy, grabby, 1 piercing; Protect its lair, Rend/ maul/crush, Move with surprising speed and grace); soft move. Without intervention from The Eye, this is just flat going off...all of it. The Eye intervenes with her Crow. We land on a custom move w/ its viscious tag to simply distract the bear long enough to give Maeve time to hulk out and break free. Now this isn't shutting down that Cave Bear soft move above. That is important. Its just buying Maeve time to get out of her predicament so she can actively make a move. 10+ so choose 2. The Eye's player goes with "remove Messy tag for this coming Cave Bear attack and buy Maeve enough time to break free from The Dread River's grasp."

2) Ok, so the Cave Bear is bearing down on, the now freed, Maeve with the above soft move. Its close vs close tag (Cave Bear attack vs Maeve's Warhammer). This is important rules-wise. Again, we've got a soft move with the Cave Bear's rush about to go off. This is important rules-wise. Maeve's player has to decide (a) do I want to deal with this soft move (via Defend or Defy Danger or some playbook move) or (b) suck it up (close vs close) and Clash. They go with (b). As such, that means that the soft move is "going off" no matter what. So the best possible result for this Clash becomes a 7-9; there will be a counterattack (the soft move ignored getting paid off into a hard move).

Now, imagine either party had reach rather than close and forceful? Different story of rules-collisions and resolution. But it didn't so I'm not going to bother with that.

For my (GM) part, the most consequential principles' impact on play were:

Follow the rules (a PBtA novice of custom moves and understanding complex rules interactions could have flubbed multiple moments)

Ask questions and build on the answers (the Bonds were the seminal part here, but a few others)

Be a fan of the player characters (putting them in specific kinds of danger with specific kinds of opportunities)

Give your characters life (the clan, the Fog Spirit, the elk, Danu, Manmarch, The Dread River, The Lady of Crows, the Cave Bear)

For the players' part, the most consequential principles' impact on play were:

Show us what’s important to you + Have goals and pursue them (the Bonds + Instincts and how they pursued/fulfilled them, their relationships and how they indulged/matured/rebuffed)

Make connections to other characters (each other + everyone mentioned in "characters life" above)

Be bold, take risks + Embrace difficulty, setback, and failure (everything about that session was about being bold and embracing setbacks and turning the tide; profound peril and enough adverse action resolution results to seriously send things careening)

Help author the steading and the world

Build on what others have said

Give others a chance to shine
(The Eye's player making specific moves in order to spotlight and amplify Maeve and vice versa)

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