Chateau Vorace: Table Top Adventure

Chateau Vorace is a single session table top RPG campaign designed for three players. The game lasts two and half hours. I focused on creating a game system that integrated with the narrative while still leaving room for player freedom and choice. The system allowed players to chose a strength in mental, social, or physical ability which granted them +3 to action rolls in that area. Players rolled a d20 to determine the success of their actions, with NPCs and rooms having different effects (internally) on success thresholds.

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Chateau Vorace Analysis

Problem Statement: The combat heavy table-top adventures I have played lacked mystery and puzzles. Though my friends and I traveled together in the adventure, we rarely interacted with each other. How can I make an adventure that focuses more on player relationships?

My initial adventure consisted of an environment, a few distinct NPCs, and a timed goal. I was careful not to create a rigid world, as suggested by Patrick Benson. The players were invited to attended a banquet at a mansion in which they would be honored for their achievements through an induction into a secret society. They would be confined to the mansion, which consisted of the banquet hall and the kennel. The party was full of indistinct guests, one Host, and one Oracle, all of which were members of the secret society. Upon arrival, the players would be told that only two of them would be accepted into the order and the other would be stoned to death for the glory of the society’s “Foremother.” The guests at the party would vote for or against the three players depending on how they acted during the banquet. The guests had 3 hours to make their case or find another solution (this was 10 player actions = 1 hour.) I also further simplified the Roleplaying 101 system to better conflate the players’ identity with that of their player character and generate clearer player stories.

Character Creation and Mode of Interaction: Before being informed of the predicament, players were asked to announce why they think they were chosen to be part of the society. Was it their great mental prowess, social fluidity, or physical might which brought them glory in life? The attribute players pick grants them +3 to their chosen activity. For example, if a player chose the social stat, they get +3 when talking, flirting, harassing, etc. The players are made aware of this bonus before they chose. I did this to encourage a wide spread of stats and/or to get players of different stats to work together. Players must roll to judge every action (since they are being scrutinized by the guests.) Players may act alone or together, but they must decide before an action is taken. The same player cannot take two actions in a row; another player must take a singular action before the first may take a new singular action. Collective actions (ex: We all shove the door open) may occur at any point.

Initial Puzzles: The initial version had two puzzles: Get the monster the society worships out of the cellar (destroying the castle and giving you a way out) or Get the society to vote in your favor. I wanted to present the players with tough choices: Either way, one member of the group must be sacrificed.

  • Monster puzzle: The steps for this puzzle were fuzzy, to allow for the players to arrive at any steps to get the answer. I would accept the puzzle as solved if the players used any human flesh as bait to lure the creature out. I hinted at this through the monster’s reactions to player presence near the grate the monster was underneath.

  • Voting Puzzle: Any action in view of the guests would be judged via die roll. An 11 or higher was a vote in your favor; less was a vote against you. Players could sabotage other players’ chances by starting rumors, tripping them, etc. At the end of the 3 hours, the player with the lowest vote score would be sacrificed.

 

Ideation Playtest

This was my first experience DM'ing. As I started to flesh out the narrative, I realized the need for a playtest. I ran the adventure with a friend, which resulted in this analysis. I did not record interest curves for this playtest. The goal was to practice leading an adventure, find out how long the adventure took, and test puzzle difficulty.

Duration: Since I cut character creation, the game lasted about an hour and a half. This was too short for the assignment, but felt too long for the player because he couldn’t figure out the solution to the puzzle. Eventually he gave up and accepted his fate as the stoning victim. I want the stoning to be a valid ending, but not because the player gave up. If the players chose to work against each other, then the stoning is a reward for their hard work of destroying the reputation of their friend. This was a problem because the player played alone, and did not have the other players to bounce ideas off of. I think more options and things to explore might help, as well as extending the amount of player actions that constitutes one hour.

Puzzle Goals: Frequently the player expressed that he didn’t know what to do. As he became more frustrated with the puzzle of getting the monster out of the cellar, I gave him more and more information that wasn’t tied to his actions. I wanted him to talk to the NPCs for this information, but he rolled low when talking to them. I had tied the amount of information given to the roll, which made him perceive them as having no information of use to him. I should have only tied reaction to the roll, not the amount of information critical to navigating the play space. After play, he said he knew that he had to get the monster out of the grate (the goal I had envisioned for that puzzle), but he could not figure out a way to get there. This calls for interlocking parallel puzzles to take a break from this one or clearer hints. The player was also conflicted about the vote system. He wanted to solve the puzzle (he said he was aware that “Shit is going down in that other room”), but he felt like he was being too scrutinized by the votes. He said he felt like he had to choose between solving the puzzle and winning votes. He was also confused about how to get votes in his favor. I had assigned positive votes to natural rolls (not impacted by any +3 player stat bonus) 11 or above, and negative votes below. This seems to have made the voting feel completely out of the player’s control. Players should be able to influence votes cast on other players, so this needs to be amended.

Characterization: The player said he wasn’t sure what he was roleplaying or if he was roleplaying. He often asked me who he was and what he could do. I responded with, “You, and you can do anything.” This was a bit overwhelming for him. He said that if he was at a party he would just stand there until it was over, regardless of if he risked dying at the end. This indicated to me that the stakes in the story are not high enough to cross the threshold of player engagement. He did not feel as if he was in danger (either him or his player character.) He never tried to break the party environment or do something unexpected, but he did spend most of his playtime in the room away from the party. He was also confused as to why he was at the party. His invitation: “You are invited to attend a dinner party at Chateau Vorace in honor of your precocious achievements. The Rapacite Order welcomes you into its ranks.” Was too vague. He wanted more reason to be there and more information on his character.

Information Overload: The player asked for a map twice. I definitely want to make a map, which I think will help players remember what is in each area and provide an opportunity for environmental storytelling (cutting out the need to talk and bonusing characters with mental abilities.) He said the description text was very visualizing and he really felt like he was in at the party, but he could not pull relevant information out of the descriptions. I had only described relevant objects in the room, but he was still unable to remember the action points in each room. He completely forgot about The Oracle NPC.

 

System Notes

Player action: Any time you want to do something, roll the d20 to check your success. Players may either act singularly or you can all act together (which counts as one player action). If you chose to take a singular action, you must wait until at least one other player takes an action before you can take another action. There are a fixed number of player actions that can occur in one in game hour. All players must agree on the turn method prior to a turn. If they can’t, they roll to see whose method will be run (highest d20 roll earns the run.) Every 20 player actions = 1 hour. At every hour the clock should tick down.

Story Campaign

OPENING

Invitation: You’ve been invited to a party in which you will be inducted into the illustrious Rapacite Order. You should be honored: the order’s members include Nobel laureates, great humanitarians, and beloved authors. Only the masters of their field are invited to be a part of this organization.

Opening: Your town car slithers back into the forested drive, tires silent, melting back into the cool night. On the other side of the drive sits a massive oak threshold carved into swooning and glinting carnal images. Beyond that, a sprawling complex of vaulted rooms and the distant lilt of music and laughter. You have arrived at your fete at the Chateau Vorace. A small, rugged man with pulsing, raw knuckles guards the entry. He watches you, the chapped skin of his hands flaking off in the moonless darkness.

WAIT FOR ACTION

Before you can DO THAT an arm grabs ACTIVE PLAYER and pulls them into the manicured bush by the valet. From within the thorny visage of a swan, the arm’s owner (a young, unwashed man smelling of fry grease) begs your forgiveness, but he must have a word.

IF YES: The man’s eyes light up with ravenous gratitude. He pulls out a pen and wrinkled notebook from his jacket pocket. “I’m on the scoop of the century,” the man stumbles, the excited words fauceting from his lips. “I’ve been trying to get into this party for months!” He exclaims, “The current owner of this castle and reputed leader of The Rapacite Order, is a notorious animal abuser. I’ve heard she’s never seen with the same hunting dog twice! Rumor is, she’s keeping an illegal exotic pet chained up! I need you to help me save those dogs and get whatever she’s keeping into a safe environment. Will you help? Can you find some proof at the party?

IF YES: “Great, try the kennels!”

IF NO: “Please, at least check the kennels!”

IF NO: You leave, hearing him shout about saving the dogs or some other nonsense.

WAIT FOR ACTION

Approach The Bouncer: As you approach the bouncer, he grows with every step. Turns out he’s only small compared to the archway he’s standing it. “Invitations.” He says. It is not a question.

WAIT FOR ACTION

Entering the Castle: The grand oak doors groan apart, slowly revealing the glittering banquet hall. Immediately to your left stands an iron cage full of polished obsidian stones. Crystal candelabras swing gently from the high vaulted ceiling, reflecting and refracting the masked guests below. Marble busts on rosewood pedestals line the feast with watching eyes. In a great crest the roasted scent of braised potatoes swallows you, followed by the rich sizzling of buttered beans and thick, generous pools of sweating steaks.  The hall is flanked by two sets of great doors, with another to your right with a heavy lock on it. At the end of the table, before a massive hearth topped with a crystal faced grandfather clock, sits a middle aged woman in a severe silver dress. She must be at least ten feet tall. She rests her head in her hand, swirling her Champagne flute with the other. Beside her stands a quivering youth with heavy golden puck around his skinny neck. He devours the food before him, though he is the only one eating. The woman notices you, her gaze afire. With her attention follows the guests, whose chatter abruptly ends. Genuine smiles dart over their faces as they point at you. The door closes behind you with a creak. You hear a dull thud from the other side.

WAIT FOR ACTION

The woman stands, drawing every head. She taps a silver appetizer fork to the side of her glass, the sharp shimmer of the golden bubbles reflecting from the gilding of the utensil to the effervescent eyes and into the blades of the high crystal chandeliers. She speaks, sucking the breath from the room: “Welcome, friends, family, and honored guests,” she gestures at you. “To my humble home on this, the night of our Foremother. May I congratulate you all on a wonderful year! Bertram’s cancer cure has now saved over five million lives. Kella’s cold fusion reactor has eliminated the need for fossil fuels while simultaneously creating a massive new job market. Bravo, bravo to all!” The crowd cheers, beaming. “Tonight we celebrate our honored traditions, including the embrace of these new ones. As you know, the Rapacite order only recruits the best. We hope that these new members will contribute to our repository of knowledge and help us make the world a better place,” The crowd chuckles quietly. “Tell me, newcomers, why do you think we have invited you into our hallowed halls? What puts you among us? Mental Prowess, Physical Might, or Social Acumen?”

PLAYERS CHOOSE STATS: Mental Prowess, Physical Might, or Social Acumen. +3 to action attempts in their given category. Players may also indicate a backstory for their character here.

“Great feats,” The woman continues, her icy honeyed words hanging in the air. “Known all around.” The crowd applauds, impressed. The Host claps to, but her hands seem to stick together and shine with a clear film.  The claps die down. “But, as is tradition, only two may remain in our ranks. Tis the will of our Foremother, handed down through the generations. So, as we have done every year since the Testament of the Foremother, we shall hold a vote. Current Rapacite members shall vote for their favorite of the newcomers. Remember, each member may only vote once, but you may vote in favor of or against a newcomer. The top two shall be inducted into our ranks. The unlucky third shall be subject to the traditional volley of stones to the death,” She lifted her flute to the cage of obsidian rocks, each small enough to fit into the palm of the hand. “Dearest family, it is nine. You have until midnight to cast your votes,” The great grandfather clock rings out in chocolate overtones and simmering, stocky booms. Nine, lonely booms. On the ninth boom, the woman raises her glass. A flock of stemware joins her in a toast. The clock falls silent, and the woman returns to her hearth. Chatter resumes among the guests.

 

MAIN PLAY

 

THE GREAT HALL

ON ANY ROLL IN THE GREAT HALL: Any roll 10 or above succeeds, otherwise fails.

SUCCESS: A woman in a fox mask walks over to you. She is holding a scrap of parchment and a long, feathery quill. She fauns over you, asking questions through her mask that you can’t quite understand. She begins to giggle. She uses her quill to scribble something on the parchment. She waves goodbye to you and makes her way towards the cage of stones, where a gilded chest sits unguarded. She drops their paper into a slot at the top, then makes her way back into the mix. You’ve been voted for.

FAILURE: A couple in fox masks sneer at you from a few feet away. They draw back from you, murmuring to themselves so faintly that you cannot hear. In their shaking hands you spot strips of parchment and long, feathery quills. They give you one more look, then the man shakes his head. He stays to watch you as the woman scurries off into the crowd, gone you’re your sight. You’ve been voted against.

THE HOST

The Host: The thin woman is middle aged, her skin is drawn tight over sharp cheek bones. Her eyes sag as she looks at you. She’s giant, towering over you. “Yes, newcomers?” She murmurs, the effortless voice sifting into your ears. She takes a sip from her flute, red lips leaving no residue.

The Host personality: She is uncaring of the newcomers until they newcomers start making trouble. She likes having control and order and she will do anything to keep herself in power, including violence.

The Host motivation: keep herself in power over the society, keep her members safe, kill the next child of The Foremother

 

THE ORACLE

The Oracle: The skinny youth’s face lights up. He is buzzing with excitement. “Welcome to Chateau Vorace!” he says, “I am the Oracle of The Foremother, keeper of the tradition. When midnight comes, I will write your name in our books of lore.”

The Oracle knows: information about the society, about the player, and about the mansion. He also knows the history of this ritual: there have been years in which all 3 newcomers were stoned. He knows about the Foremother: a great being who bestows the society with eternal youth in exchange for flesh. His friends last year tried to poison the food. His friend who died last year had a large scar over his eye.

The Oracle’s motivation: He wants to prove himself. He became a member last year by throwing his friends under the bus and proving his worth with his eidetic memory at becoming the new Oracle. He is afraid that the order will lose use for him and dump him in a ditch.

Objects:

  • Food: It smells as good as it looks, but everyone is politely waiting for all of it to arrive before eating. Everyone except for the youth with the gold puck.

  • Obsidian rocks: In a gilded cage sits the rocks that will pelt one of you to death in a few hours

  • Gilded chest: a box with a slit in the top for casting votes

  • Clock: It’s ticking down the moment until your death

  • Door behind the hearth PLAYERS RIGHT: Kitchen door

  • Door behind the hearth PLAYERS LEFT: Kennel door

  • Door to the right: Bedchamber door

  • The Host

  • The Oracle

 

THE KENNEL

This room is very dim, with only a sparse smattering of candles providing any light. The place reeks and rattles with the cages of rabbits, dogs, and rats. A steady drip feeds into a drainage grate at the back. A rusty lock clamps around the grate in a pool of viscous clear goo. Nearby sits a tarnished golden hand bell.

The Grate: the underside of the bars are covered in sticky, clear mucus. The smell hits you first. A few notes of summer strawberries in the sun, amplifying as through a field rustling with wind. Sugary, fragrant, natural. A sourness begins to infect the sweet, a rotten, too-sucrose charge of electric rot. The odor is massive, inescapable. Then the sound. Wet, squelching, sputtering with hard crunches. A deep, bony sequence of cracks from the throat of a giant drum. Growing, racing, it pulses, the drone from underneath. Finally you catch a glimpse: just little points of light, blinking in unison. Each point glitters, focusing. For a moment there is stillness. The starry points converge and a maw opens, saliva glittering off enormous, writhing tentacles.

Objects:

  • bell: The Foremother will bring you the key, think you are her dinner.

  • Grate: see grate text

  • Goo: slightly sticky, odorless, but thick and viscous

  • Door to the Great Hall

  • Cages of animals: they stink but their mostly empty or full of odd patches of fur or bones. Perhaps abuse or perhaps food?

  • Carnage: sucker marks on every inch, but very daintily pulled apart and only certain parts are eaten, as though whatever was eating had a distaste for the remainder.

  • A rusty lock: so old and fragile that might just crumble in your hands

 

THE KITCHEN

A flurry of apron-clad servants whisk and chop at a mountain of aromatic vegetables on the center island. A wall of knives lines the back wall, each locked into place with a thin silver chain. A beanpole of a man, bald, holds the complementary keys in his shallow apron pocket. They jingle as he pivots around the kitchen, his gaze commanding corrections without a single word. In the sweltering fire of a great central hearth sits a massive, roiling sauce pot. Tarragon and nutmeg fumes swell from its lip as the chef with the keys checks its consistency before sliding on to inspect a tray of meat. A bowl of transparent goo sits precariously near the food.

THE CHEF

The Chef: Towering and spindly, The Chef spiders over his work, meticulously garnishing a flight of filet mignon with perfectly balanced towers of rosemary. His long fingers, sinewy bones between burly knuckles, contract on your entry. He takes a ragged breath, and choses to ignore you, turning his attention to a bubbling platter of cinnamon baked apples.

The Chef Knows: Who feeds the Foremother, The Foremother’s taste and biology, what happens to stoned individuals, he has a key to The Host’s bedchamber to bring her food and will give it to the players if they agree with him

The Chef’s Motivation: Create a work of culinary art in honor of The Foremother, a treat that will cause her to laid an egg containing the next host. He also believes the Host is interfering in this ritual somehow and will give the players a key to her bedchamber if they agree with him.

Objects:

  • Knives on the wall: chained up. The Chef seems to have the keys

  • Herbs: Hemlock and nightshade are hanging next to rosemary

  • Goo bowl: Clear mucus in a very ceremonious bowl. A rim around the edge shows that some has already been used in the food.

  • Cookbook: It’s open to a page for a recipe requiring 200 pounds of human flesh.

  • A salt outline: it’s human shaped, in preparation for one of you.

  • A caldron: full of a rich, earthy soup full of tomatoes and spices. And soon, one of you.

  • The Chef

  • Servants who bring food out every few minutes

  • The door to the Great Hall

 

THE BED CHAMBER

Your shoes begin to resist your steps as you cross the threshold. A series of portraits lines the walls, each face nearly identical to the woman who gave the toast. A vanity sits in the corner, soaking up most of the room with side tables laden with little bowls brimming with visceral substances. Nearest to the mirror is a stack of carefully folded letters, well read and well loved. Every surface is glistening with a layer of clear mucus. Layers have built up, congealed unevenly across the floor. This is what you have stepped into. On your right you see a fleshy, gooey cocoon from which something has thrust form, ripping pieces everywhere. In the center of the floor lies a severed tentacle and a bloody knife. The tentacle is still twitch with firing nerves.

Objects:

  • The scared skull: A skull with a deep gash that tried to heal. The wound was inflicted pre-death. It reminds you of something The Oracle said.

  • Bowls: Each bowl is filled with a human looking body part, some preserved, some desiccated.

  • Letters: Each sings the praise of “The Host”, the woman in the silver dress. They are addressed from various members of the order, all of which thank you for her care and dedication. They really love her.

  • The tentacle: The tentacle flops as you approach, but it is completely brain dead. A gray hair has fallen nearby, probably lost in the amputation. Who else has gray hair?

  • The knife: an old kitchen knife. Matches the silver set in The Kitchen.

  • The Cocoon: Odorless, but covered in the same clear goo as the floor. Umbilical in nature, a human imprint seems to be left in the slime. It’s almost as if someone has sprung forth.

  • The Portraits: they are all of the Host

  • The door to the Great Hall* if you are caught leaving it the host will confront you

 

 

PUZZLES

If the PCs seem to be on an interesting track, construct a new puzzle in response.

Voting: Figure out a way to gain votes for yourself and get votes cast against the other PCs.

Casting Votes: The first and smaller puzzle was figuring out how the NPCs cast votes. Players were given the information that NPCs were allowed one vote, but that vote could either be for a character or against a character. The puzzle for the players was determining what behaviors would win them positive votes. A roll 10 or above for any action within view of the guests would result in a positive vote. Nine or less was a negative vote. Figuring this out was an “ah-hah!” moment in my first run through of the story which caused the player to use actions in his chosen skill (mental) to maneuver around the hall, as this increased his chances of getting positive votes with his skill bonus. Players can also chose to sabotage others and make them look bad, causing votes against them. If the game ends without the player figuring out the other two puzzles (or a better on that they make during play) the votes are tallied and the losing player is stoned to death by the others, who throw the first lot. The dead victim is then fed to The Foremother, continuing the process all over again.

  • Consequences: One player is stoned to death.

  • Steps: Any action revolving around sabotage, rumors, or reputation

  • Hints: Any actions judged with high rolls win votes in your favor. Any actions judged with low rolls (below 10), counts against you.

Submitting to the Will: The clock strikes midnight with twelve, echoing booms. The guests in the Hall slowed, then stopped, frozen with anticipation as The Host before the hearth stood, her flute empty. In the silence, she raised the glass and tapped the edge with a desert fork. Twice. Two guests emerged from the hushed throng carrying an ornate chest. They bow before The Host, placing it before her. She runs her hand over the lock, clear mucus runs from her palm. The lid springs open to reveal a bounty of parchment slips. The Host clears her throat, “Is there any case you’d like to make for yourselves before we begin the tally?”

WAIT FOR ACTIONS

The other players stone the chosen to death and the cycle begins anew.

 

 Destroying the Castle: Players are confronted with the existence of The Foremother as a large being who can destroy the castle by The Oracle. They learn her dietary preference for human flesh from The Kitchen or The Chef. Inspecting the grate in The Kennel will reveal The Foremother, who will provide them with the key to open the gate while saying she’s ready for her meal. If the players do any action which involves using human flesh as bait to lure The Foremother, they solve this puzzle, which results in players getting a sequence of actions to make it out of the castle as it crashes down around them. All the other characters die, except for The Foremother herself, who escapes into the sea.

  • Consequences: One player must be sacrificed. All party guests die.

  • Steps: Players enter the Kennel>Players open the grate>Any action revolving around baiting or luring using human flesh of any character

  • Hints: The Foremother does not eat the rabbits, dogs, or rats. The Foremother will become excited and reach for the exit when PCs appear in her line of vision. The Rapacites feed the stoning victim to the mother.

 

Poisoning the Food: Players are introduced to this idea by The Oracle, who claims his friends from the year before tried and failed to do this. The Kitchen is full of poisonous herbs, and a jar of The Foremother’s slime, which is openly explained by The Oracle or The Chef as the substance which gives the order eternal life. Without the goo, they would die. Players may choose either substance or find another suitable poison for the food. Successfully getting the poison into the food in The Kitchen or The Great Hall solves this puzzle, which kills all the guests except for The Host, who is not human. She will lament the death of her subjects and offer all the players the chance to be leaders of a new Rapacite order they found together.

  • Consequences: All party guests die. Players may die if they ingest the wrong food.

  • Steps: Players enter the Kitchen> Players find a poison>Players manage to get the poison in contact with the food

  • Hints: The Chef uses hemlock to spice The Foremother’s dinner. The clear mucus is caustic to those not born of The Foremother (The Foremother and The Host).*If this is used as the poison then the Host lives. Food leaves the kitchen about every 15 minutes and is carried by the same server.

 

NPC Motivation and Creation

 

The Host: a 10ft tall middle aged woman slowly becoming a foremother. The protector of the order; they love her.

  1. Actor source: Charlize Theron in Snow White and the Huntsman

  2. Traits: severe, conservative, quick to action, protective

  3. Love: Being the leader/Shepard of her people; keeping them safe and seeing their happy faces

  4. Fear: Being usurped by the next Host to be born (she’s been killing them as they hatch for several years)

  5. Status: Highest “human” status. Second only to the Foremother, who does not communicate directly with the group.

  6. Arc: Uncaring for the plight of the PCs as she prepares for the murder she will have to commit->Understanding of the players, becomes subordinate to them if they confront her

  7. Function: Tutorial, Antagonist

  8. Room: The bedchamber

  9. Objects: portraits of her around the room (identification that this is her room), her cocoon from her birth (she is a daughter of The Foremother), trophies from the cocoons of those she’s killed (each new Host takes the appearance of that year’s stoning victim), stacks of letters from the order singing genuine praises (her people love her), the goo she emits on every surface (she is a child of The Foremother), a bloody knife and a severed thin black tentacle (she is becoming a new Foremother and doesn’t want to.)

 

 

The Oracle: a youth with a golden puck around his neck. He became The Oracle at last year’s party after demonstrating his photographic memory and making a deal with The Host: he would be spared but he had to serve as the keeper of traditions (a slave) to the order for the remainder of his eternal life.

  1. Actor Source: Anthony Michael Hall in The Breakfast Club

  2. Traits: bubbly, eager to help, show off, subservient, self-serving

  3. Love: the traditions of the order (the stoning and replacement of the Host) and the honor they represent

  4. Fear: The order will lose use for him and kill him

  5. Status: Low status, subservient to all members

  6. Arc: Helpful to scornful if your actions will displace him; support will flop to Chef if players help The Chef->will realize that he is selfish and let his friends die if confronted

  7. Function: mentor/helper

  8. Room: The Grand Hall

  9. Objects: the food in the hall (he’s the only one eating it)

 

The Chef: an artist. Each year it is his job to cook the stoned member in an offering to The Foremother. If the meal is a nutritional masterwork, she will give birth to the next host. The Host has not changed in many years, causing The Chef to grow suspicious of the current host. Surely his cooking is not the problem.

  1. Actor Source: Christian Bale in The Prestige

  2. Traits: jealous, glory-seeking, judicious, arrogant

  3. Love: cooking, his craft, and being a master chef

  4. Fear: that he will fail The Foremother, who will cease to give him eternal youth

  5. Status: High ranking, but below the host

  6. Arc: A negative arc: jealous and seeking justice at first. He says he will vote in their favor if they help -> if the PCs help him, he will turn against them, changing the rules such that two must be stoned to death for his new masterpiece as the new Host.

  7. Function: Puzzle key, antagonist

  8. Room: The Kitchen

  9. Objects: the salt outline of a human on the table (preparation for his dish), a chained-up wall of knives (he doesn’t trust anyone with a knife), a cookbook open to a recipe calling for 200 lbs. of human flesh (his dream dish), a wall of toxic herbs (to spice The Foremother’s food), a jar of clear slime (the ingredient that gives the order its eternal youth)

 

The Foremother: a giant monster who emits a clear mucus that grants eternal youth to humans who ingest it. She only has to eat once a year, after which she gives birth to a humanoid who will lead the order. This humanoid is meant to be replaced each year so that there are never two Foremothers.

  1. Traits: picky, shy, change-avoidant

  2. Love: human flesh, but only once a year, as a treat

  3. Fear: that she will be forgotten and not fed

  4. Status: Ultimate high status of the order, though she chooses not to communicate or associate with them directly

  5. Arc: is monster

  6. Function: tool/puzzle

  7. Room: The Kennel

    1. Objects: clear slime, the grate, locks on the grate, *she gives you the key to them, a mutilated corpse (a previous victim), a bell (she rings it to get The Chef’s attention)

 

How it Went

  1. Pre-game: Player received an invitation via email to a banquet in their honor.

  2. Arrival: Players start outside the banquet. They wish to talk to the bouncer, but before they can approach, someone pulls player 1 aside. They players are confused for a moment when asked to roll of the success of any action. She converses with this other man, who asks her to help him save the hunting dogs and the exotic pets living in the kennel of the castle where the party is being held. She tells him to “fuck off.” The three players approach the bouncer and give them their invitations. He lets them in, the door locking behind them. The players take a moment to look over the newly revealed map of The Hall and speculate over what the objects might be. The players listen to the description of the room and NPCs, intrigued by the cage of stones (“Oooh”), the fact that The Host is 10 feet tall (“Woah”), and that The Oracle is the only person eating (“No, don’t!”) The player first decide to check if the grand door is locked, which it is. The players are now accustomed to rolling for every action. Here they stumble over understanding if they are acting as one character when they chose to act together. I re-explain. The Host asks the players for their skill background, and the players chose their skills and backgrounds. Player 1 choses social, Player 2 choses physical, and Player 3 choses mental. They chose without consulting each other, but agree afterwards that the division was a good choice. They do not give a back story. Upon hearing about the stoning ritual, the players ask for the information to be repeated, and Player 2 exclaims, “Only two of us can stay!?” The players seem very interested in this.

  3. Hour 1: The players discuss what to do. They ask if their characters knew each other before the banquet. I ask the same question back, and Player 1 says yes. They use this information to rationalize trying to work together because they have opposing strengths. They make a plan of action, considering if they want to make sure they all get out a live or if they want to fend for themselves. Player 3 wants to work together, and Player 2 agrees. Player 2 expresses that he thinks he has the biggest advantage with his physical skill (he wants to kill everyone.) Player 1 becomes the unspoken leader and gives the others tasks based on their skills. She tells Player 2 to intimidate the NPCs and Player 3 to convince the NPCs to keep them together. They argue that these are not their skills. They dissuade the physical player from killing everyone, agreeing to try social means first. Player 1 decides to take notes. They agree to split up. The social player talks to The Host and the mental player investigates the food. These tasks are self-determined. The physical player agrees to eat the food (on a successful roll) and receives a vote for. The players make a short comment on the vote, “Makes sense.” They move on, and do not attempt to change or gain more votes. The social player talks to The Host. The mental player wants to explore, on a high roll, and is voted for. The player expresses confusion on whether this is a good thing. We stop to talk about meta-knowledge and I explain that every player knows all the information learned by the others in this game. The mental player enters The Kennel, groaning as they see the map. The social player remembers this location from the man outside. The social player talks to The Oracle on a low roll, receiving an against vote. The players, “ooh” as it happens. The Oracle explains the clear goo, The Chef, The Kennel, the vote system, and the ‘poison the food’ puzzle on the request of the social player. She also asks about the dogs, recalling what the man outside had mentioned, and receives information about The Foremother. The mental player is hesitant, but decides to explore The Kennel. The mental player begins the ‘Destroy the Castle’ puzzle by inspecting the grate. The physical player enters The Kitchen, gaining a vote against. The players take a minute to look over the room. The players ask about the guests in The Hall and why they are wearing masks. The mental player grabs the key. The players debate over whether or not to open the lock on the grate. The mental player does not want to confront the thing under the grate alone. The other players come to The Kennel and open the lock and grate with her. The players ask for more information about the tentacles. They decide to feed the tentacles, first looking for food around The Kennel. The realize the monster likes human flesh. We stop to re-explain the advantage, over time, of collectively acting. The players discuss asking The Oracle for more information. Player 3 misunderstands and thinks the others want to feed The Oracle to the monster. She says, “People don’t like him, but he’s not bad.” They clarify that they just want more information. The players reason that the silver key given by the monster might work in other places. The mental player doesn’t want to feed the monster until she knows more information about what it is. They agree to confront The Oracle about it. They take a moment to discuss the voting system and that when they all get a positive vote, nothing happens in to the final tally. The physical player notices that there are silver keys and silver locks and gold locks. The social player asks The Oracle for information on the monster with a high roll, receiving a positive vote. She is relieved by it. The Oracle and the player converse, with the social player interrupting to ask clarifying questions. The conversation escalates with information, with the social player exclaiming, “Oh my God.” The players decide to visit The Chef and to open the locks on the knife wall. Upon seeing that their silver key and the silver locks are a perfect match, the players get excited. The player who defended The Oracle suggests jokingly that they should sacrifice The Chef to The Foremother. The players decide to steal The Chef’s gold key while talking with him to create a diversion. They ask what in-game hour they are in. The social player appeals to The Chef’s ego, having heard that The Chef considers himself an artist. The social player agrees to do a favor for The Chef and investigate The Host and is given a gold key. Afterwards, the social player tries to get the other players to steal The Chef’s other keys, regardless of their effect on the plot. The players attempt to unlock the knives on the wall, and are given a knife by The Chef. The players agree to unlock the gold lock in The Hall.

  4. Hour 2: (at 1 hour 2 minutes) The players discuss using a diversion to make sure The Host does not see them unlock her chamber. The social player agrees to talk to The Host, while the other two enter the room. The social player rolls low, receiving a negative vote. She brushes it off with, “Sure, whatever.” The social player has an eloquent conversation with The Host, taking into account her motivations and ego. The players laugh over a joke about The Chef. The other two players enter The Bedchamber on a low roll, verbally expressing their anxiety as NPCs catch them in the act. The laugh over the descriptive failure to open the door. The mental player wants to investigate. The players look at the skull with the scar and remember a previous mention of a scarred cheek, but they cannot remember where they heard it. The players investigate the tentacle and discuss the evidence that it belongs to The Host. They reason that it does, and that she cut it off herself. The social player interrupts play exclaiming that she remembers where the scar came from: The Oracle’s companions. The players discuss if this is proof of The Chef’s claim. They spend a few minutes deciding what to do before choosing to look for more evidence. They find new information but aren’t sure what it means yet. The social player asks The Host more questions while the others try to figure out what this means. They have another very eloquent conversation in which the player makes aggressive inquiries. The other players decide to re-investigate the room for specific information after listening to the conversation. They discover a hole in the ceiling and deduce that The Foremother’s eggs are coming from there. The mental player recalls that the smell from the hole is the same smell from the grate in The Kennel. The players debate where in space they are. The mental player does not want to leave The Bedchamber, but wants to investigate the mirror because of its position on the map. They look into the mirror and find the backwards reading inscriptions on the bowls. They look at the scarred skull bowl, but don’t seem to connect the information as proof of The Chef’s claim. I feed them three rounds of extra hints as they stare, unable to jump the gap. They note that the extra information is interesting, but still aren’t sure what to do next. They re-investigate the room and discuss the information. They take a small snack break and ask for clarifying information, which I give through reminding them of what NPCs have said before. They debate about who is really a bad person. They are stumped by the fact that The Host is killing people, but the order members seem to love her. They remember that the only person who doesn’t is The Chef, and then remember he is looking for proof that she is interfering with his plans. The players return to The Hall, where The Host meets them. This distresses the mental player. The social player tries to cover for them, but fails (even though the role was high.) The players decide to confront The Host with their discovery. She flounders, and offers them a way to survive at the expensive of someone else. The players don’t like this option.

  5. Hour 3: The mental and physical players decide to show The Chef proof of The Host’s killings of other new hosts. The Chef turns on the players, making his announcement (the mental player is excited to hear it) that The Host is a fraud and that he needs to kill two of the players instead of one. Immediately after the announcement is made, the social player says, “Alright, this is what we are going to do,” and gives her plan to confront The Chef with the option of using The Host as 200 pounds of meat because she is so tall. She then retracts her plan upon remembering that The Host is not human. The player discuss who to talk to, with the physical player suggesting The Oracle. The social player agrees, appealing to The Oracle’s sense of tradition to get him on their side. This fails. They decide to talk to The Host, who confronts them with their rejected deal. Their appeal works, and The Host reminds them that they just have to get human flesh near The Foremother. The players ask how she knows The Foremother will always produce a child, and The Host admits she’s been murdering them every year. The mental player wants to sacrifice The Chef to The Foremother. The social player reasons that they don’t need him anymore, and the mental player settles for just attempting to kill The Chef instead. They decide against killing The Chef. The Host incentivizes the players by offering them leadership in the order if they sacrifice The Chef to preserve her status. The players realize that if they feed The Chef to The Foremother, he will be reborn. The mental player does not want this to happen. The social player rejects The Host’s offer, citing that she doesn’t trust her. The player discuss who they want to kill. The Host leaves them with one last bit of advice: don’t taunt The Foremother with the flesh. The players discuss the option of not feeding The Foremother, which they want to try. The Host reminds them that if they reach the end of their third hour without taking action, the vote will come to a head and two of them will be stoned to death. The players then agree to sacrifice someone, but then remember that they can tear the castle down. They discuss who to use as bait, and chose The Oracle. They appeal to his love of The Foremother and convince him to come with them into The Kennel. They discuss just tossing The Oracle into the grate, but reason that this would not taunt The Foremother into coming out and would cause The Oracle to be reborn, which they don’t want. The 40 minute mark until the vote is announced. The players get closer to the grate, trying to push The Oracle to the edge. The Oracle makes a note that The Foremother speaks telepathically, which interests the players. The social player makes a plan that all the players should curse The Foremother mentally. Since this is a mental action, the mental player is even more interested and handles the group roll. The players continue to taunt The Foremother and convince The Oracle to speak aloud to The Foremother, and each shared their mental taunts aloud with each other. The players back up and decide to cut The Foremother’s tentacles with the knife they got from The Chef in order to make The Foremother angry. The players want to keep agitating The Foremother. They clarify that they don’t want to give The Foremother a sacrifice. They say they want to kill The Foremother. They discuss their options, noting that they would probably die if they tried to kill The Foremother. Instead they chose to keep annoying her. They toss their knife into oncoming tentacles. The tentacle grabs The Oracle and the player decide to try to save him. They fail to save him and cut down another tentacle. The Foremother lunges at them, bringing down the castle around them. They run from room to room, rolling as they run to avoid debris and avoid a giant tentacle chasing them. They chose to escape through the hole in The Bedchamber where The Foremother’s eggs drop. They make it out. Everyone around them is dead. They ask if they’ve killed The Foremother, but see her swim away into the distance. The final vote tallies:

    1. Social Player: 10 for, 5 against

    2. Mental Player: 7 for, 0 against

    3. Physical Player: 8 for, 2 against

    4. Puzzle Description

 

I included one small puzzle in the game and two possible large puzzles prepared for how players would want to play in the space. I wanted these puzzles to be fully integrated with the space and objects of the story.

Casting Votes: The first and smaller puzzle was figuring out how the NPCs cast votes. Players were given the information that NPCs were allowed one vote, but that vote could either be for a character or against a character. The puzzle for the players was determining what behaviors would win them positive votes. A roll 10 or above for any action within view of the guests would result in a positive vote. Nine or less was a negative vote. Figuring this out was an “ah-hah!” moment in my first run through of the story which caused the player to use actions in his chosen skill (mental) to maneuver around the hall, as this increased his chances of getting positive votes with his skill bonus. Players can also chose to sabotage others and make them look bad, causing votes against them. If the game ends without the player figuring out the other two puzzles (or a better on that they make during play) the votes are tallied and the losing player is stoned to death by the others, who throw the first lot. The dead victim is then fed to The Foremother, continuing the process all over again.

The players did not chose to work the vote system or sabotage one another. Once they figured out that actions in The Hall with low rolls got negative votes, and actions with high rolls got positive votes, they chose to resist their fate in the story. They actively worked together to earn as many positive votes for each other as possible by discussing who should do which actions based on their skill bonuses. They divided the three skills evenly such that each player had a three point bonus in a different skill. Yuxing, the physical player, ended up doing most of the traversing, as entering and exiting rooms required a roll for attention. Sina, the social player, stayed mostly in The Hall and had long conversations with the NPCs. The other players avoided talking to NPCs in The Hall to avoid risking a negative vote. The mental player tended to be hesitant and followed the physical player out of The Hall whenever she could. Since players could perform actions in parallel to conserve time, as long as the physical player rolled for the action, she could coast from place to place without being voted against or for. This following behavior may also be the result of me not providing enough explicit benefits to being a mental player, or may speak to the mental role as I designed it. Since I decided to give out information regardless of the value of a roll (and just flavor the roll badly with a negative vote for low rolls), the mental player had no incentive to act individually after an initial observation roll on places and NPCs. This came up after the adventure when the mental player expressed that she wished she had more to do. We talked about the frequency of mental narratives in games versus books in class, with internal struggles occurring less in games. I stumbled upon the explanation here: mental reasoning is dependent on individual players. I gave the mental player the pieces, but no puzzle to solve with her bonus. Her incentive to act ended with finding the dots, not connecting them. In other games mental tasks include hacking, repairing, or dealing with technology, but these are really represented as physical tasks in games, not mental deduction. The mental skill did come up in the Destroying the Castle puzzle, surprising that player then, but I needed more of that moment in the voting puzzle in order to keep the votes high stakes for all three players/skill types.

Destroying the Castle: Players are confronted with the existence of The Foremother as a large being who can destroy the castle by The Oracle. They learn her dietary preference for human flesh from The Kitchen or The Chef. Inspecting the grate in The Kennel will reveal The Foremother, who will provide them with the key to open the gate while saying she’s ready for her meal. If the players do any action which involves using human flesh as bait to lure The Foremother, they solve this puzzle, which results in players getting a sequence of actions to make it out of the castle as it crashes down around them. All the other characters die, except for The Foremother herself, who escapes into the sea.

The players figured this puzzle out very quickly at the end of the third in-game hour. They solved the puzzle quickly, deducting each step on their own with only one hint from me that was not a planned description of the consequences of the players’ actions. The Kennel was the first room they entered, and they rolled for and were given all the introductory puzzle pieces of information at that point, but they chose to talk to the NPCs first. This is an interesting discrepancy between the events and the way the players perceived the hints occurring: in both their interest curves and their post-game comments, they liked that the pace of information reveal was steady. In reality, they were given the puzzle gate at the beginning of the game, then only returned to the puzzle location at the end after talking and exploring their way around the party. I reminded them of the puzzle using The Oracle character once, mid-way through play, and they responded in conversation with each other that they knew what to do, but wanted to learn more about the NPCs and organizations in the game first. Interestingly, this led them to debate over which character to sacrifice to The Foremother in the puzzle. They wanted The Chef, but ultimately chose The Oracle because they thought he would be easier to trick. This choice was interesting because they chose along their skill levels and not the narrative antagonist (in their game The Chef declared that he wanted to kill two of them instead of one, becoming the objective antagonist.) Narratively, this means they were more emotionally invested in saving themselves than acting just or fair. When reminded that destroying the castle would kill all the cancer doctors and Nobel prize winners at the party, the players had no difficulty in choosing to save their own hides. Mechanically, this means that they were more invested in their own ability to influence the world rather than a revenge narrative. The end of the puzzle fell flat, as I tried to increase the pace of rolls and the pressure of the experience by urging the players, but I also tripped up a few steps in the end of the puzzle, ruing the pacing experiment when I forgot to send them to the next step. I also hadn’t written out description text for each step of the puzzle, so my delivery became less consistent as well. Overall, this puzzle became the ending of the game, which I wished I could have practiced more. I learned that in this case, players will act in their own self-interest when there are no morally pure options in their choices. I also noticed that regardless of when puzzle steps are actually completed relative to the game’s timeline, if players discover and move through the puzzle steps at their own pace, they will enjoy the puzzle more. For that reason, I think the puzzle was effectively entertaining, as indicated by positive trends in the interest curves at the end of hour three when the bulk of the puzzle was solved and the post-game comment that the game felt unpredictable.

Puzzle Steps:

  1. Learn about The Foremother:

    1. First hear about The Foremother: 9 minutes 15 seconds, no reaction.

    2. Get details about the identity of The Foremother from The Oracle: 47 minutes 41 seconds, upon learning that The Foremother takes up the foundation of the castle, the players reaction with an “oh.”

  2. Need human flesh:

    1. Figuring out it’s Dinner Time: 40 minutes 42 seconds, the players look for food in The Kennel to feed the tentacles. They chose to look at a dog carcass, reasoning that the monster does not like it. They investigate a skull, reasoning that the monster did like the human flesh.

    2. Realizing the Stoning Victim is Fed to The Foremother: 48 minutes 55 seconds, the social player asks, “You mean one of us is going to be eaten by The Foremother?” in conversation with The Oracle. She is alarmed.

    3. Freudian Slip: 43 minutes 21 seconds, one player misunderstands the others and thinks they want to feed The Oracle to the monster when the other just wanted to talk to him. She exclaims that The Oracle isn’t bad, just annoying. She doesn’t want to feed the monster until she knows more about it. They clarify that they won’t kill The Oracle.

    4. Exploring Options: 54 minutes 13 seconds, the player who defended The Oracle suggests they sacrifice The Chef instead. The others laugh, but decide against it.

    5. Remembering Human Flesh: 1 hour 41 minutes, the social player wants to convince The Chef to use The Host as 200 pounds of human flesh to feed The Foremother instead of two players, but retracts her plan after remembering The Host is not human.

    6. Picking a Target: 1 hour 49 minutes, the players agree to use The Oracle as bait because they think he will be the easiest to lure into The Kennel (because of his love of The Foremother.)

  3. Inspecting the Grate:

    1. Inspecting the Grate: 28 minutes 37 seconds, noting that they don’t have a key to unlock it.

  4. Receiving the Key:

    1. The Foremother’s Tentacles Hand Over the Key: 29 minutes 27 seconds, players “Ooh,” and excited ask the engaged player to get the key. The tentacles distress the engaged player.

    2. The Players get the Key: 35 minutes, they take a minute to decide what to do next. The engaged player is hesitant, and does not want to unlock the grate alone.

  5. Luring the Foremother:

    1. Opening the Lock on the Grate: 38 minutes 40 seconds, the players agree to open the grate.

    2. Hint at the Lure: 1 hour 45 minutes, The Host reminds the players that any human flesh near The Foremother will arouse her.

    3. Don’t Taunt: 1 hour 48 minutes, The Host reminds the players not to taunt The Foremother with the human flesh in order to not knock down the castle.

    4. Do We Taunt?: 1 hour 51 minutes, the players discuss just tossing The Oracle into the grate, but reason that this would not taunt The Foremother into coming out and would cause The Oracle to be reborn, which they don’t want.

    5. Mental Taunts: 1 hour 53 minutes, the players discover that The Foremother can be telepathically communicated with and they curse her in their minds.

    6. Don’t Kill Her: 2 hours, the player decide that killing The Foremother would probably kill them, so they decide to keep taunting her.

    7. Save the Sacrifice: 2 hours 3 minutes, the players try to save The Oracle from being eaten causing further taunting.

    8. Cutting a last Tentacle: 2 hours 4 minutes, the players cut off another tentacle. The Foremother lunges for them, bringing down the castle. The Players solve the puzzle.

 

Poisoning the Food: Players are introduced to this idea by The Oracle, who claims his friends from the year before tried and failed to do this. The Kitchen is full of poisonous herbs, and a jar of The Foremother’s slime, which is openly explained by The Oracle or The Chef as the substance which gives the order eternal life. Without the goo, they would die. Players may choose either substance or find another suitable poison for the food. Successfully getting the poison into the food in The Kitchen or The Great Hall solves this puzzle, which kills all the guests except for The Host, who is not human. She will lament the death of her subjects and offer all the players the chance to be leaders of a new Rapacite order they found together.

The players did not chose to poison the food. They mentioned the possibility of poisoning it when The Oracle mentioned his friends attempted it, but ultimately ignored that path. This might have occurred because they learned about this option through the lens of failure: these characters attempted this puzzle and failed, so we shouldn’t have done this. As a GM, I did not remind or push them towards this puzzle as they figured out the destroying the castle puzzle on their own. The players felt as though they had uncovered and taken steps toward destroying the castle by themselves (without my hints), which was a more compelling experience.

 
 
 

Interest Curves

 

Key:

  • 2A, 3A, 4A, and 5A = End of hour 1

  • 2B, 3B, 4B, and 5B = End of hour 2

  • 2C, 3C, 4C, and 5C = End of hour 3

Postmortem

Curve Analysis:

The players chose to divide the curve by in game hours. In all of their curves there is a gradual positive trend from hour mark to hour mark, with only a few slight dips. This indicates that the players enjoyed the experience, but could not remember any significant events which caused a spike of interest or disinterest. The shallow lulls of disinterest may correlate to moments of plot stagnation when the players were briefly stuck on what to do next or were discussing instead of pushing the story forward. The lack of interest spikes indicates that no event was interesting enough to be distinguishable from the rest of plot. This matches post-game comments that the narrative had a good pace of revealing information and was generally unpredictable. Interestingly, all the players enjoyed the integrated character creation scene, which may correlate to the unlabeled hump at the beginning of G1. Toward the end, I felt that the narrative became boring as the players tried to finish the puzzle and get out of the castle. G2 and G3 mirror this with plateauing at the end of the curves. In the F curve I perceived a lack of interest at this moment. In the E curve I thought the glimpse of The Foremother escaping would create a small interest peak at the end of the story, but the players interpreted that as failure to kill the monster. In the original E curve I expected the players to remember significant events and to return to the same level of interest in at these events before the climax, instead of a gradual curve. Since all of the player curves are generally the same, it can be said that all the players felt similarly entertained and were not singled out.

Insights:

  • Skill roll advantage leads to team work: The way in which players interact with the system changes their choices in the narrative. To open up the available actions in the story and get to playing faster, I chose to use a very simple rolling system. All actions required a d20 roll and fell under social, mental, or physical categories. Players got to choose social, mental, or physical skill buffs when creating their character in the integrated character creation scene. Finally, players could choose to all do one action together for one action or go their separate ways for individually counted actions. An unknown number (to the player) of actions filled an in game hour. The players realized that if they chose to work together, the hours would be longer. Since the players all chose different skill buffs, if they performed an action together, the person with that skill buff would roll so that their extra three points would be added to the roll. These factors came together early in the story when the players were discussing if they should work together. The reasoned that since they had complimentary skills, they should work together to get the order to save all three of them instead of sabotaging or following the vote system. This led them to work together to destroy the castle, resulting in a much more traditional hero arc for the PCs. They sensed an advantage to team work based on a triad of skills, which they thought would give them a better chance of getting out of the story together.

  • Moments of content building: Players comfortable with the narrative want multiple ways to influence it. At two points in the story the narrative paused for explicit player input. When players built their characters and backstories at the beginning of the adventure, I asked them what skill they wanted a bonus in and if they had a reason for choosing this skill. In this first moment, none of the player volunteered a back story. However, at the end of the game there was a scene in which the players taunt The Foremother with telepathic insults. I paused here and asked each player what their insult was, which they announced gladly. At this point in the narrative, they had more power as characters and a goal within the story: taunt The Foremother into appearing. They had identities within the world. I think this made it easier for them to open up and enjoy this latter social moment. This moment also provided a change of interaction mode from declaring an action and rolling for its success, to a more open-ended way of manipulating the story. This empowered the players by giving them another gateway into shaping the end of story the way they wanted to.

  • Adjusting the timers to create tension: Keeping some information hidden from the players gives the GM more room for story fixes or spontaneity. The point of having the in-game hours was to provide a sense of tension and a progress bar for the players. I did not tell the players how many actions made up an hour so that I could cause a sense of dread whenever I reminded them that their time was running out. I started the first hour at 20 player actions, and towards the end the players started asking what hour they were in. They indicated to me that the hour was too long. The tension was lost; they didn’t feel pressed for time. Since the players did not know the number of actions in an hour, I made the second hour 15 actions, and the third hour 10. They did not ask for the hour again, and the pace of the story seemed to quicken, which was the initial goal of the feature.

  • Meta-knowledge: Allowing the players to know everything all the player characters know encourages teamwork and makes puzzle solving more energetic. I designed the experience so that all information learned from one player character was accessible to all the others. I did not hide information from one PC conversation from the others. There was no loss of information if players were in different rooms. I explained this to the players who understood. Hiding the information was technically difficult. I think this also contributed to the players’ choice to work together. If they were all gathering and think about clues, they could solve puzzles faster. This led to several breaks for discussing what to do next and riffing off of each other’s possible puzzle solutions. This led to a feeling of unity when they reached puzzle solutions (signified by collective “ah!” moments.) The players felt like they worked together to solve problems.

  • Repeating puzzle reminders is annoying: The failure of the voting puzzle was caused by repeated exposure. Every time a vote was cast, the NPCs behaved in the same way. The rolls became predictable as the game continued. Each action in The Hall resulted in a vote, so there were a lot of repeated little scenes. This eventually caused the players to have negative reactions or no reactions to votes. Since the vote system was meant to cause division in the player party and be threatening, this lack of reaction made the puzzle boring and not worth pursuing for the players. I should have come up with more varied ways of announcing to the players that votes were occurring based on their rolls.

  • Infrequent puzzle reminders create dramatic moments for players (not player characters): Providing enough information for a player to recall an earlier clue makes them feel smart and renews their interest in the moment. These moments are player based, not player character based. For example, when the players entered The Bedchamber and chose to look around, they saw a skull with a scar on its cheek. The players’ reaction was exuberant, they remembered hearing about a scar on a cheek before but couldn’t remember the source of the information. They discussed it with passion, trying to remember that they heard it from The Oracle an hour earlier (they eventually did remember.) This conversation was much more compelling than what the player characters were doing (standing and looking around a room.)

  • Spectacle moments must be integrated with the rest of the narrative and the interaction system: In contrast, spectacle moments for the player characters sometimes came off flat because their player side moments were not compelling. For example, when the players were running from the tentacle at the end of the game, I tried to quicken the pace by having the players roll very frequently for many different small actions interspersed with brief text based reminders. I thought this change of action would create a sense of urgency for the players and help communicate that the castle was fall down around them. Instead, the players still wanted to discuss and solve for a way out, stopping to talk between rolls. This halted the urgent feeling in its tracks and was just awkward for the players. I needed to gradually wean the players off of a discussion based, teamwork system of rolling to something that could get them moving faster. The system I used was better serviced for slow-burn stories (like noir.)

  • Spectacle moments have the potential to create interest: By wrapping plot beats or character motivations to off details in the story, players remembered them and flagged them as important later. For example, at the beginning of the story, I mentioned that The Host is 10 feet tall. The players were very interested in this point, which I highlighted to show that she was a main character who wasn’t entirely human. At the end of the story, the players remembered her height and wanted to sacrifice her to The Chef who was looking for 200 pounds of human flesh. They reasoned that a 10 foot tall person must weigh at least 200 pounds. I had not expected this detail to resurface, pointing to the sticking power of a single off-seeming detail within an expected world.

  • Performance in conversations: Playing talent should be rewarded beyond narrative progression and reputation. One of the complaints from the social player after the game was that she felt she was not rewarded for her conversations, which were quite clever performances between her and me acting as an NPC. I gave her more information when she asked a good question, and complimented her abilities, but this was not enough of a reward for her to feel satisfied. In this case, I think a temporary skill buff to another skill or a power up may have been a good reward choice beyond opening the next section of narrative.

  • Agency: Another complaint was that players felt that their rolls were arbitrary. This arose from my decision to give out information regardless of roll value and use the voting system as punishment and reward for rolling. Since the players lost interest in the voting system, they did not feel challenged by these punishments. Their rolls simply flavored how they interacted with the world. I need to find a balance between passing enough information so that the players never feel stuck, but also feel like their rolls are the cause of their progress. I could do this by changing the quality of information passed or the difficulty of clues.

  • Mechanical pleasure: Extreme rolls generate the same excitement as unexpected story moments, so I tried to supplement them with interesting moments in the narrative. Rolling a 1 or a 20 was an exciting moment for the players, even before they knew what reaction it would have. Even through their relatively low experience was RPGs, the other players came to the game with an expectation that 1 meant bad and 20 meant good. I tried to use these expectations to my advantage by coasting off the emotional spike. If a 1 was rolled, I made a joke about how clumsy the player was while trying to do their action. If a 20 was rolled, they received compliments.

  • Diverging paths: The players wanted to yank the narrative off course several times; using story logic to guide them back resulted in more interest in the original narrative arc than saying “You can’t do that.” At one point the players decided they wanted to try waiting out the story and breaking the cycle by not feeding The Foremother. This was not an ending I had planned for, to I used an NPC to remind them the vote would occur at midnight if they took no other action. This would result in two of the player characters being killed and fed to The Foremother, which would continue the cycle. They consider this, and decided they would have to sacrifice someone. This returned them to the destroy the castle path, which they then began to ask NPCs about and investigate/plan how they would go about it. This occurred after a lull in activity, so the merging refueled their interest in the story. In contrast, when players would question logic (such as asking for the reaction of the bouncer when the player was pushed into the bush in the beginning of the game) and were given generic answers (in this case, “He didn’t see that.”), they were less interested in investigating that path further.

  • Imbalance for skill types: In this system, all skill types should have valid play options and unique methods of influencing the story. Another post-game complaint from the players was that the mental player had less to do. In play, this player was very hesitant and avoid The Hall to avoid the voting system. She took fewer actions that the others. This may be because after her investigation skills were used, she had no application skill to use next. The social and physical players did all the doing. I needed to have some sort of puzzle or activity for the mental player to excel at and use to push the narrative forward. This less can be applied to the other branches of this system too: I think there should have been more unique options for the players to use. Regardless of skill, all the players did the same basic actions: enter rooms, look around, and talk to NPCs. While skill buffs made some players more likely to gain positive votes for these actions, they were not unique to each play style. I needed to give more play options dependent on skill type to give each player a more compelling experience.

Conclusion

Overall, the adventure did address my initial problem statement by manipulating the players into working together. There were many discussions between the players about how to proceed, and their ability to solve the puzzle together outside of their characters gave them a sort of comradery. The player characters, however, were a bit imbalanced in favor of the socially and physically skilled players. There were less opportunities for mentally skilled players to contribute to puzzle solving or pushing the narrative forward. The core issue I struggled with was how to expose information in a consistent manner. I chose to always give out information and use poor play performance to flavor the way information was given. The adventure ended up lacking agency for some players’ skills but did deliver information in a gradual, unfolding way that players found unpredictable and enjoyable. I have found that this struggle between agency (the player’s amount of influence through mechanics) and narrative interest is common in game stories. There is often conflict between the skills of the player within a world (and their ability to problem solve a story using these abilities) and the allure of the strengths of a traditionally written, linear story. In the table, top format, I explored, I learned that as a storyteller I had to trust the players to connect the dots of puzzles within the world. I tried to make their choices and actions matter, but since I rewarded them with information regardless of their rolls, my attempts registered as colorful description rather than the effects of their actions.