November 8, 2016 by dlnsctt
Last Saturday was our second session of Stabracadabra. It took some wrangling, but we finally managed to schedule a second session – part of it seems to have been that we weren’t all in the same room to figure it out, because once we were, we were able to easily schedule a regular day for it. Which I’m very glad for, since I’m really enjoying this game, including what happened in this session.
Let me give you some context before I relate what they decided to do about their demon problem. I mentioned earlier that one of my players had decided that his character, Marlowe Jones, used to be apprenticed to the local Warden, David Sarantino. What I didn’t mention is that this Warden is definitely not the greatest guy in the world. They had established during city creation that he had a small group of apprentices, various focused practitioners and the like, that he had grabbed from the magical underbelly of Detroit to serve as his own personal army. For context, there has never been any mention in any of the Dresden Files books (that I’m aware of) of wizards taking on more than one apprentice at a time, so he’s probably not training them all that well. He sent them out on missions to take out Lawbreakers and do various other “White Council business.” This means that he was sending these kids out to kill other kids. Yeah. This is why Marlowe left. We also established in the backstory that after she left, Marlowe had robbed this guy’s lighthouse to get magical ingredients for a spell she wanted to work. So the relationship is not good. I’m sure you can imagine my surprise when they stated that their first order of business was to go to this guy’s house and politely ask him about the demon attack.
To be fair, I did say that the sigils representing the demon’s names, and the method used to power the attack, reminded her of Sarantino’s style, but that it clearly wasn’t him based on the handwriting and such. I expected them to do a different thing, which I’ll keep to myself since I’m pretty sure at least one of my players reads these posts and they might still do it, but they surprised me. And that’s fine! It’s not only fine, it’s exciting. I like it when players surprise me, especially in a way that I was more or less prepared for anyway. I didn’t have Sarantino completely stated up, but I had a good idea of his aspects and a rough idea of his skills. When they said that this was their plan, I quickly jotted down some numbers for his main social skills and left his magic skills at “he can blow you up with his mind.” Why did I write down his social skills? I’m glad you asked! SOCIAL COMBAT!! FINISH HIM!!! FATALITY!!!!!
Ahem. Social combat is an aspect of the system that I was really excited to dive into. I like how modular the combat system is generally – when you lose a combat, you get “taken out” which doesn’t necessarily mean that you die as in other systems. Your opponents in the combat choose what happens to you, you negotiate it, and that’s it. Getting taken out in a physical combat might mean you die, yeah, but it also might mean you get captured, or you fall unconscious, or you get forced out of a home, or almost anything else that seems appropriate. In a social combat, it’s even more nebulous: getting taken out could mean that you must reveal your secret; or that you must leave the scene in a huff, embarrassing yourself; or that you do have to take your daughter shopping; or that you lose the trial and are sentenced to jail time. Further, the rules for skill rolls in social combat are a lot looser as well. Conviction determines how many social stress boxes you have (basically how many social “hit points” you bring to the table), Empathy determines your social initiative, and other than that, if the player makes a case for a certain skill being used, it can be used. I had players use Empathy, Rapport, Intimidation, and Deceit, with some discussion of using Contacts and Resources and various other oddball skill choices.One thing to watch out for that I discovered is that, in social combat, it’s much more important for players to have a clear idea of what their goals are and what’s happening in the scene. You’re really trying to model a combative conversation, where each side is trying to get things from the other instead of the usually clear goal of “fight now, make dead.” In actual combat, the players have at least one clear goal: stay alive. In social combat, they don’t have that, so it’s paramount that everyone at the table knows what their real goal is.
They did some other stuff before heading over to Sarantino – started to deal with the wreck that was made of Holland’s bar during the fight the night before, laid down a ward on Eudora’s apartment where most of them stayed since there’s a decent threshold there, stuff like that. With that ward, we got our first taste of ritual magic, which went a lot smoother than I was warned it was going to. It might have helped that a) I don’t think my players understand how powerful and versatile it is yet, and b) I’ve already read Rick Neal’s incomparable articles on the subject, so I was prepared for it. Anyway, there was a lot of really good character stuff that doesn’t particularly bear going into.
After all that, they went over to Sarantino’s place. I don’t think they were really aware that social combat was on the table when they went into this interaction. It’s funny, because it’s actually a really good way to get under a wizard’s skin – if you limit the interaction to the social realm, they can’t really bring their magic to bear against your attacks, so they don’t get to access their highest skills and their points of spent refresh. That said, Sarantino is an inveterate liar and a social climber, so they actually had a challenge on their hands despite the fact that they were all ganging up on him.
I’m not going to go through every move and defense and such, but there are a few that were really clever that I want to highlight. First of all, there was just a lot of really good roleplaying going on at the table. I think it helps that everyone in the group are all really experienced roleplayers, so they can simulate the conversation in their heads without forgetting what’s happening. There were a lot of good moments when they were starting to figure out that they can port what they know about the physical combat system over to the social combat system: there were a lot of maneuvers which generated aspects, which were then tagged by other players, which is a classic FATE System tactic. I want to particularly shout out Eudora’s player, who did the really cool thing of using her turn to put an aspect on the scene. That aspect was WE’RE ALL ADULTS HERE, which was then tagged multiple times to give their social moves a little more weight. I think eventually they’ll figure out that delaying tags on aspects can provide one player with a LOT of oomph instead of several players with a little oomph. Bigger oomph is better, right? Anyway, they eventually whittled him down and got him to concede. He said that yes, it was likely that it was one of his apprentices that did this, and he gave them a name: Patricia Black. Marlowe knows her as Trixy, since they were ::dun dun dun!:: apprentices together! And that’s basically where the session ended.
We’re looking at much more frequent sessions in the future, so look forward to more posts about the campaign! As always, comment if you have something to say or get at me on twitter (@DylanJTScott) if you want to talk about the game or RPGs in general.