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[Conspiracy of Shadows Actual Play] Blood Opera!

Thor Olavsrud

Bokononist
Validated User
#1
I played an awesome game of Conspiracy of Shadows Revised Friday night at GenCon and thought I'd share. This game knocked my socks off and I really think more people need to take a look at it.

For those that don't know, Conspiracy of Shadows is a fantasy horror game with influences that include the classic Romantic/Gothic horror literature like Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, Goethe's Faust and, of course, Stoker's Dracula. But it is also a game of conspiracy horror, and so other influences must include The X-Files and Millennium[/i], among others. CoS characters live in a fantasy analogue of eastern Europe in which sinister conspiracies and monsters rule the night. CoS characters are also people who have managed to pierce the veil of secrecy that surrounds the conspiracies that rule the night, and taken up a seemingly hopeless fight against it.

The game in which we played was a total Blood Opera with overtones of Othello. Since we were doing a one shot, Keith (the designer, Bob Goat on these forums) chose not to focus on the supernatural elements of the conspiracy. Instead we had a very tight family melodrama.

My character was a magnate, and head of a noble household. The game started a few days after the death of his youngest brother's wife. Though her death appeared to be an accident, the truth was that my character had ordered her death after he had been given proof by another brother that she had been treating with the enemy (a large group of bandits that had been plaguing my lands). The murder had been kept a secret from my youngest brother, the victim's husband (played by Matt Snyder).

Jurgen played one of my retainers, the swordsman who had killed the woman (by placing thistles under her saddle, leading to her being thrown and trampled). Jurgen's character was also Matt Snyder's character's best friend.

Drozdal played the middle brother, an ambitious hothead chafing under my character's rule. Andy K played the brother-in-law and court advisor, who was scheming with Drozdal's character.

And Matt Gwinn took on the role of another retainer, the captain of the guard, who wanted to advance in my character's favor, even if he had to stomp on Jurgen to do it.

The game opened at dinner, as Matt Gwinn's character offered a toast to Ivana, Matt Snyder's character's recently deceased wife. Lots of veiled threats and verbal positioning ensued, as some of us (myself included) tried to squelch talk of Ivana while others sought to twist the knife. This continued for a little while until we came to the first conflict.

My character and Jurgen's character got into a conflict after his character's new-found drinking problem became readily apparent and my character told him he'd had enough. The first thing we had to do was determine our stakes. I declared that if my character won the conflict, Jurgen would approach me later and tell me why he was suddenly drinking so much. Jurgen declared that if he won, my character would no longer question his drinking.

CoS uses a simple system in which you determine the attribute and skill used to achieve something (in this case the Temperance attribute and the Decorum skill) and then roll 2d6. You may also include bonus dice if your attributes or skills have positive Descriptors that apply to the situation (negative Descriptors give penalty dice, which subtract from your roll). For instance, Jurgen's character had the Temperance Descriptor, Glowing Personality. So he received a bonus die in this contest. I was able to bring Descriptors for both Temperance and Decorum into play.

So Jurgen rolled three dice (2d6 plus 1d6 bonus for his Temperance Descriptor). I rolled 4d6 (2d6 plus 1d6 for my Temperance Descriptor, 1d6 for my Decorum Descriptor). You total the result of the dice and add it to the sum of your attribute and skill. For instance, I had a Temperance of 4, a Decorum of 3, and rolled a total of 19 on my dice. My final result was 22 (4+3+15). I compared this to Jurgen's final result (18). I won the roll and so Jurgen had to set up a scene later in the game in which he came and told me about his problem (an awesome scene which would drive the rest of the game).

This was a simple conflict (akin to a simple contest in Clinton R. Nixon's The Shadow of Yesterday, or a simple contest in HeroQuest or an enrichment scene in With Great Power...). The game also uses an extended conflict that is similar to The Shadow of Yesterday's Bringing Down the Pain. Both systems have a nice fluid feel that allow players to put dramatic weight on scenes that are important to them. It feels very nice in play.

Doom is another mechanic that had some neat applications in play. Each player writes a Doom for his character; his character's destined, tragic end. At any time, when appropriate, you may choose to invoke your Doom and automatically win a contest. However, you cannot use Doom to eliminate named characters. Each time you invoke your Doom, it's rating increases by 1. When your rating reaches 6, your character has reached his endgame. The Doom is at hand, and your Doom rating becomes penalty dice. Penalty dice are rolled along with your 2d6 and any bonus dice, but they subtract from the total on the rest of the dice. I was using my Doom (I will be the last, great leader of my House) fairly frequently in order to push myself toward my Doom.

When Jurgen initiated his scene with me, he revealed that he had turned to drink because he felt so guilty about having killed Ivana. I assured him that he had done the right thing and the evidence provided by Drozdal's character was incontrovertible. This is when Drozdal (I think) invoked his Destiny Pool, which is an incredibly cool mechanic, and its use by everyone at the table was my favorite part of play.

The Destiny Pool is an authorship mechanic and an experience mechanic rolled into one. You earn Destiny Pool points for playing up your character's Drive (loves, hatreds, loyalties, etc.) and for Dramatic Moments. You can use your Destiny Pool to improve attributes or skills, to purchase a new skill, or to introduce a new narrative element to the game. The only limit is that you may not eliminate any characters or resolve conflicts through these facts.

In this case, Dro used a point to declare that Matt Snyder's character (the husband of the murdered woman) was walking past and overheard my character's conversation with Jurgen. He now knew that my character had ordered his wife's death! Other points were used to cast suspicion on Andy K's character in the wife's murder, to cause the bandits to attack the manor as the three brothers were about to throw down, and more!

Trust (inspired by The Mountain Witch) is another mechanic that had a really visceral effect on play. We started the game with a pool of dice in the center of the table to represent everyone's trust in the House. We could draw a die from the pool anytime we wished. However, dice only flowed into the pool when someone did something selfless for someone else. Dice were removed from the pool each time someone had the opportunity to do something selfless for another but chose not to. As you can imagine with the conflict we had going, the trust dice were used up at a pretty rapid pace as our family fell apart, and pretty soon there was no trust left at all. It was pretty telling!

I've already mentioned the scene between my character and Jurgen's character, and the inadvertent spilling of the plot to Matt Snyder's character. Other favorite scenes from the night include:
  • A titanic three-way verbal clash with Matt Snyder's character on one side accusing Andy K's character of having his wife murdered, Drozdal and Andy K on a second side goading Matt Snyder on by telling him his wife was a traitor, and Matt Gwinn on the third side, urging both groups to put their grievances aside and allow my character to resolve the dispute. Andy smashed all resistance in that one and eroded a fair bit of my character's authority.
  • The battle between the family and the bandits as the house burned around them. It was a really tense, exciting scene as my character rushed to save Andy K's character (despite having just exiled him), but failed to do so.
  • The surprise use of a Destiny Pool point at the end of that battle by someone (I don't remember who) to declare that the leader of the bandits was our illegitimate brother.
  • Drozdal attempting to stab my character in the back after the bandits had been defeated, only to have Jurgen cut off his hand.

It ended with Matt Snyder and Jurgen leaving the house (eventually to start a rival house). Matt's character was able to forgive Jurgen's character for killing his wife, but not able to forgive me for ordering it. Andy K's character was dead. Drozdal, handless, was allowed to stay at the house, but would plot against me for the rest of his days. And the bandit leader took Matt Snyder's character's place in the household. Matt Gwinn's character got his wish and became my character's right hand man.

All in all, it was a tragic, incredibly satisfied ending that was really supported by the mechanics. Definitely awesome and I hope to get a game going at home soon.
 

Paka

Or call me Judd
Validated User
#2
I watched the last few minutes of this game and was entirely pissed that I didn't wake up from my nap in time to get to this table. Lame on me.

The Destiny Points really allow everyone to throw their 2 cents in when it is important to them and give the game depth. It also keeps the players watching the game with their full attention, even when it isn' their scene, because you can throw Destiny Points into a scene that your character isn't in. Some of my favorite use of Destiny Points has been from players whose characters weren't in the scene. Great stuff, using the imaginations of everyone at the table to make the game more fun.


Thor Olavsrud said:
Doom is another mechanic that had some neat applications in play. Each player writes a Doom for his character; his character's destined, tragic end. At any time, when appropriate, you may choose to invoke your Doom and automatically win a contest. However, you cannot use Doom to eliminate named characters. Each time you invoke your Doom, it's rating increases by 1. When your rating reaches 6, your character has reached his endgame. The Doom is at hand, and your Doom rating becomes penalty dice. Penalty dice are rolled along with your 2d6 and any bonus dice, but they subtract from the total on the rest of the dice. I was using my Doom (I will be the last, great leader of my House) fairly frequently in order to push myself toward my Doom.
I can't wait to throw Doom's into my Conspiracy of Shadows monthly pirate game. I think it is a great mechanic and my favorite part of it is that it is entirely up to the player to push their P.C. one step closer to a tragic ending.
 
#3
Thor,

That game rawked. I was so damn pleased by how it turned out and had a ton of fun in the process. It is nice to be able to just sit back and watch the Players do their thing. Like I tell folks at the booth during the con, Conspiracy of Shadows is a lazy GM's dream. All the prep is done by the Players and all you have to do is some scene framing and make sure all the intent declared makes sense.

Judd - This will teach you to take naps during GenCon...

Keith
 

Yokiboy

Retired User
#4
Is all the cool rules mentioned by Thor from the revised rules, or did you add stuff from the Companion? Or is the Companion just further examples and explanations of the rules in the main rulebook?

I was just thinking of ordering your game Keith, and would like to know (or be talked into) ordering the Companion as well?

TTFN,

Yoki
 
#5
Yokiboy said:
Is all the cool rules mentioned by Thor from the revised rules, or did you add stuff from the Companion? Or is the Companion just further examples and explanations of the rules in the main rulebook?

I was just thinking of ordering your game Keith, and would like to know (or be talked into) ordering the Companion as well?

TTFN,

Yoki
All the cool rules are in the Revised Edition Thor mentioned. The Companion has stuff like a city building tool kit, an essay on using Horror and Religion in roleplaying games effectively, a cult builder toolkit, an essay on using the uncanny and mundane together, an article on creating conflicts and a whole bunch of nifty setting information, plus new art. So the Companion builds on the stuff in revised and gives you some new tools, but is by no means required to get the cool ass shit that occured in the game Thor described.

Edit: The Companion will be available for sale on my site tonight once I update shit.

Keith
 
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Thor Olavsrud

Bokononist
Validated User
#6
Yokiboy said:
Is all the cool rules mentioned by Thor from the revised rules, or did you add stuff from the Companion? Or is the Companion just further examples and explanations of the rules in the main rulebook?

I was just thinking of ordering your game Keith, and would like to know (or be talked into) ordering the Companion as well?
I'm pretty sure everything we played with was straight out of Revised (which I started devouring yesterday on my flight home).
 
#7
Thor Olavsrud said:
I'm pretty sure everything we played with was straight out of Revised (which I started devouring yesterday on my flight home).
You are correct sire. Everything in the game was straight out of Revised (AKA the Mulligan Edition).

Keith
 

Drozdal

I forgive as I forget
#8
So this was definitely best game that i played at GenCon. Revised CoS is really easy to pick up (i do not think that anyone at the table besides Keith, played it before) and destiny pool - oh man, you just have to see it to believe it. When Thor will be done with reading, I have to familiarize myself with expanded conspiracy creation mechanics. ROCK!
 

Burning Luke

i burn worlds
RPGnet Member
Validated User
#9
Hey Keith,

I was one of the jealous few who didn't get to play in this game -- I was WORKING, remember? But I scanned the new edition on the flight home. It looks sweet, man. You managed to pack a lot of neat stuff into a nice-sized book. When folks start complaining about BW being "too crunchy" or whatever, then I'm going to send 'em your way. You gots all the mood and atmosphere and cool narrative control, but with a different take on the mechanics. 'Tis cool.

good job, man.
-L
 

Sammael99

Enlightened Frog
Validated User
#10
Thor, your write-up is excellent because it allows me to understand a number of mechanical subtleties that had passed me by on my first attempts.

Thanks, man !

I'll re-read the game this week-end and come back here with questions !
 
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