I ran an extended game of The Wheel of Misfortune yesterday, using the rules for The Symbaroum Funnel. This created a bunch of zero Experience villagers looking to sign up to the King’s army in the early months of the war against the Dark Lords.
On the way north, they found a tinker struggling with a cartwheel – and things went south from there!
Really, this session at Concrete Cow showed me that you need to approach all things with caution. Sometimes, they pay off. Sometimes, you learn a lesson. Always, you get some new from the experience.
While you can find that things don’t always go as planned, even the biggest disasters provide you with experience. Any GM worth their salt knows that there’s no such thing as a bad session – it might feel awful at the time, but that’s how you learn. Valuable experience comes from the sessions that don’t go quite right.
Although, to be clear – this was not a bad session. This session turned out OK, under the circumstances. What it didn’t do was showcase the dark fantasy potential of the Symbaroum system. It did, however, provide some laughs, a few challenges, and some neat background potential.
Approach Names with Caution
You see this on social networks all the time. A company in one country creates a new product and then pictures of that product find their way into the wider world. The wider world discovers that the Marketing department of the company involved didn’t think to run the name through a quick sanity check and a translator.
I named the character’s village Djupa. Dupa, as I discovered, is Polish for arse.
I don’t think the game ever recovered from there. The boatman in the party plied the Bladder Lake fed, from the north, by the River Rhinal. Djupa got a few mentions, each time with a smile. I had one of those days. My afternoon game of The Cthulhu Hack, The Wood in Cobbler’s Nob, also had more than a few smiles.
Not Weak Enough
In the face of even Weak opposition, a zero Experience character can really struggle. I had seven players. Seven characters with zero Experience struggled to fight off four Weak opponents – Jakaar with high Quick that made striking them problematic. The party managed it in the end because the weight of numbers eventually meant they all got a chance to start flanking and getting Advantage, but we had one fatality – when the Dragoul in the box made its appearance.
Most of the character lost a lot of their Toughness as zero Experience character mostly lacked armour and didn’t have the money to get any. If I had a slightly longer session and a small party, I would have considered awarding them with 10 Experience for surviving the encounter and offered them the chance to choose a Novice Ability. As it happens, they didn’t need it to bring the adventure to a conclusion in the village of Grimsgil.
Think through every combat encounter you design and give some thought to the qualities of the creature and their potential opponents. While Weak, the Jakaar’s high Quick makes them tough opponents to strike and they also get to hit first.
I would never plan to run a game with seven players. That way madness lies. In this case, I caved to the fact that a couple of people had signed on in reserve positions and I’m a soft touch. I don’t recommend it as a rule.
Seven players mean you can’t give each player as much focus as they deserve and instead of shortening combat, it often makes it a longer experience because each player has to make their decisions and take their go. In a 3-and-a-half hour session, this meant that I got some roleplaying, a long combat versus the Jakaar and the Dragoul, a brief roleplay at Grimsgil, then the conclusion.
That might sound reasonable, but really the Jakaar fight took too long. Despite seven versus four (two less than planned in the original version of the adventure, which I sent to attack the Cerano instead), the battle took a while with all too many high rolls when striking and low rolls when doing damage. Against creatures with a little natural armour and high Quick, this didn’t pan out well out all.
Pick your numbers and your fights with care.
The business of random character generation speeds play, but can lead to weird combinations. Some of the equipment felt wildly ill-conceived. I sought to sell the players on the fact that the characters had left to join the war in a hurry and grabbed whatever they could.
However, this didn’t seem so bad once we got to occupations. I used the Occupation chart in my book The Cthulhu Hack: Convicts & Cthulhu – which gave us two miners, a boatman, a coachman, a painter, a shoemaker and a bootmaker. The shoemaker and bootmaker rapidly turned into competing sisters. The shoemaker rolled a pair of steel-capped boots as an item of equipment, so the bootmaker took this as a small victory over her sister. The bootmaker rolls a bottle of spirits and the shoemaker a piece of charcoal – so, it transpired the bootmaker was an alcoholic and in a fit of rage had burned the sister’s shop to the ground, of which the charcoal was the shoemaker’s only memento.
Another example was a miner with a flute and a bag of marbles. It turned out that he’d won them both in games of chance from the coachman, who seemed easily fooled into gambling away his meagre possessions.
The occupations also gave the players something to hang their skills off. When the artist suffered a mortal wound from the Dragoul, the shoemaker took her pin, one of those random possessions, and proposed her experience with sewing leather for shoes made her the first best choice as a doctor of sorts. She made a roll with Favor on Cunning and patched up the wound with what she had, bandaging other wounds with textiles from Cerano’s cart.
I recommend you give The Symbaroum Funnel a try; if you haven’t already, it makes for ideal pick-up play.
We all found the character generation quick and you can expand the tables with more starting equipment – plenty of other games offer similar tables. An alternative might be to create a pool of cards with pieces of equipment written on them, then drop them in the middle of table for open selection. Pepper the pile with good, OK and odd equipment. Let the players put forward their argument on why they deserve something and handle the selection like a card draft – let everyone choose one card, then go around the table a second and third time. Some people might relish the chance to take something a little odd and quirky, keen to bring colour to their character. Others might just dive for the weapons or armour, but they need to convince their colleagues they deserve them. If they don’t, make them choose something else.