#Greenwoodnesday Archive: Principles and Lord Poxley in #LincolnGreen

What follows is an old G+ post from November of 2014, from the earliest stages of #LincolnGreen design. I’m rescuing it from the depths of G+ largely for archival purposes. In the two-and-a-half years since I originally wrote this, much has changed in how all this information is presented to the players. The fundamental principles remain the same, but I’ve broken them up into oaths, questions, and gests, and spread them throughout the game so that they are touched upon at several times and in many ways, rather than just at the very beginning.

So enjoy this glimpse into the past and design process, but know that it is currently out-of-date.

Here’s a little look under the hood of  #LincolnGreen .

Over the last two weekends, I’ve had the pleasure of running some #LincolnGreen  playtests at both Metatopia and JiffyCon East. Both went quite well. The Metatopia one was a bit shorter and more of a highlight reel of the mechanical bits of the game, but it laid the groundwork for the JiffyCon one. For instance, I’m in love with using Robert of Loxley as the big villain (particularly because fuck that deposed nobleman bullshit) and I think I just might use him as such forever hereafter.

Thanks to Vincent Baker, we all have to write GM principles for our games now. That’s fine. I can do that. But here’s a thing that happens when I do.

Playtest Handouts_Page_3

GM Principles

  • When given the choice, choose the sensible answer over the more interesting one. This may be a hard habit to kick if you’ve finely honed your story-sense, but the rules of the game demand it. Rule in favor of what you think might happen rather what you think might entertain.
    • Ask yourself: What is the most obvious move here?
  • Make your NPCs behave as they would if their lives depended on their decisions. Characters should only fight to the bitter end in extreme situations or when highly motivated. Most people can see the tide of a battle turn against them and will react accordingly.
    • Ask yourself: What is the safest way forward?
  • Keep pressure on your NPCs. The sheriff’s people are willing to risk their lives to capture famous outlaws because the sheriff will hold them responsible for their failures. The sheriff pits his will against those of dangerous outlaws because the prince holds him responsible. The prince risks outright rebellion if he’s not seen as a ruler who can take care of a band of rabble.
    • Ask yourself: Where’s the pressure coming from?

Avoid interesting for sensible? NPCs who just give up? What the hell, Eppy? Are you trying to make a boring game?

Yes I am. The GM’s role in #LincolnGreen  is to drag the world back into the harsh monotony of Medieval life. Which is precisely why PCs have their own set of principles.

Player Principles

  • Feud with the authorities. As outlaws in the Greenwood, you’ve got shelter, food, drink, song, and companionship. You rob the burghers, abbots, nobles, and landed knights not because you lack something or wish to amass more wealth. What you do is personal.
    • Ask yourself: What would most humiliate my foe?
  • Be a true and good companion. Look to the needs of your fellow merry folk. Sneak them in and out of castles. Rescue them. Help them woo their love. Wrestle, feast, dance, sing and party with them. Make mischief. Scheme and plot together.
    • Ask yourself: What would cheer my companions’ hearts?
  • Love the common folk. They are your family, friends and lovers. Their hunger is your hunger. Their poverty is your poverty. Their heartache is your heartache. Ease their pains and set right their wrongs.
    • Ask yourself: How can I help?

Adventure is something the players make for themselves in the game. The JiffyCon playtest had a beautiful example of this. The game started with a cousin of one of the merry folk asking if he could host his wedding in the Greenwood, out of sight from Loxley who had a history of running off with the gifts of weddings past (all in the name of the good king’s taxes, of course). The merry folk agreed and I asked them who was bringing what to the party.

What followed was a quick escalation from “we should poach a deer” to “we should poach a deer from Loxley’s hunting grounds” to “we should poach a deer that Loxley is currently hunting.” It was a lovely affair involving much trickery and derring-do that included stealing one of Loxley’s horses, trying to escape by hiding underwater, and distracting Loxley’s heavy, Agnes the Twice-Dead, with a satirical song about Lord Poxley.

It was precisely what you’d want from a Robin Hood-esque adventure, and that was all before they went to steal an abbot for the ceremony. And it fell straight from the player principles. I’m pretty damn happy about these.

Additional Notes from the Comments in the Original Thread about the Column of Questions on the Right-hand Side of the Example Page:

+Epidiah: [T]hose questions are really important, too. I’m still working through them–trying to find the right combination that is evocative, but not overwhelming. So they’ll be going through a lot of changes. But the Feasting With Friends and Allies and Poaching sets were fundamental to creating the situations in my example above.

The game is kind of the spiritual opposite of Swords Without Master in that the players can only say what their characters say, think or do. That is the limit of their narrative control. In the image above, the questions labelled GM are questions the GM may ask of the players and the questions labelled Player are questions the Players may ask of the GM. In both cases, the answers can only be answers that the PCs would know.

So I sort of divide the questions up according to who has the authority to answer them. For example, “How does the guest accept our hospitality?” is asked of the GM by the players, because only GM can actually answer it.

That said, the questions you see above may not adhere entirely to those principles because they’re a bit slapdash at the moment. For example, “What concerns are we unable to distract ourselves from?” might be better served as a GM to Player question.

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