IAWA: Bloody Cults

Tuesday, I finished a game of In A Wicked Age I started last week with my group in Ungdomsskolen. They really took to it, more than I have ever seen them take to any Indie game. My personal theory is that the PvP aspect has a lot to do with this – it gives you a reason to storytell, plus it underlines the sharing of narrating rights (in some of the other games, I think they have still looked to me to “GM” by telling them what happened). Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they are older, and that I have been regularly exposing them to this kind of things for a couple of years now.

The Setup for the game

I’m afraid I can’t give you all the specifics, as I haven’t got the papers we used with me. I’m recreating this to the best of my abilities.

We drew cards and consulted the “Sex and Blood” oracle (I played with three teenage boys, and I had maintained some silly notion that they would choose, say, God Kings of War. Who was I kidding?). We got:

  • The head priestess of a bloodthirsty cult.
  • The marriage of a girl to the dead stone figure of a harvest god.
  • A woman, denied love and family, heir to a long line of sorceresses and poisoners.
  • The graduation of a swordsmaster’s apprentice, and the waiting revelry.

This turned into the following PCs:

  • The Harvest god, wanting to have a child with the girl, and to take over the cult
  • The Bride to be, heir to a line of sorceresses, wanting to become the chieftain, and to see the apprentice fail.
  • The Apprentice, wanting to take the place of his master, and to craft a sword that could kill the god.

…and the following NPCs:

  • The Priestess of the cult, wanting to kill the girl, and to gain the apprentice as a willing slave.*
  • The Chieftain, wanting the god to leave the town.
  • The Swordsmaster, wanting to capture the girl’s powers in a sword

*: We had an extra player for the second session, so the priestess was turned into a PC for him to play.

The First Session

The game started as the Bride to be arrived at the temple, with the God hidden in her entourage as a master of ceremonies. The Chieftain arrived to “pay homage” to the God. As he was leaving the disguised God “accidentally” overheard him muttering some insult towards him. The God didn’t react (in general, the God played very passively, which turned out to work in his favour in many ways).

Cut to a clearing in the woods. The apprentice is gathering his thoughts on the test the next day, when a mysterious woman appears (the Priestess). She asks him about the tests, and offers to help him if he comes to the clearing at midnight.

There was a scene here with the girl in the temple, I think of her encountering the Swordsmaster, but I’m not sure.

Skip to midnight. The Apprentice meets up with the Priestess and her two servants, agreeing to owe her a favour for her aide (a magic potion that was to help him in his trial). Meanwhile, in the village, the Bride sneaked past the Swordsmaster to slip a love potion into his water, making him enamoured with her. Then she tried to escape.

On her way back from the ritual, the Priestess had a meeting with the God, exchanging nasty remarks and underlining the hostility between the two of them. Meanwhile, the apprentice saw a figure (the Bride) trying to escape, and tried to catch her, failing and straining his ankle, landing him harsh words from his master when he came  home.

In the woods, the Priestess happened upon the Bride, and, after a chase (lasting a couple of conflicts), she captured her and dragged her back to her temple.

The next day, the apprentice went to his graduation test, and failed miserably. After an argument with his master, the pupil swore him fealty for another three years. Meanwhile, the God visited the Chieftain, asking him to get him back his Bride. After an argument, he agreed to do so, if the God in return would swear to leave the village for good. He agreed.

The session ended with the apprentice meeting the Priestess, who offered to make him the master weaponsmith in her army. Only problem was, that he’d sworn fealty to his master. So, he’d have to kill his master first…

The Second Session

Having the priestess taken over by a player solved a dilemma I’d been trying to come up with a solution to: with the God asking the Chieftain to get the Bride back from the Priestess, to NPCs were pitted against each other, meaning I would have had to play a scene against myself. Luckily, that didn’t happen.

The Chieftain went to the temple of the Priestess, beat down the Priestess, and got the Bride out of her cell. As he tried to take her with her, the Priestess assaulted him, he beat her unconscious, after which the bride attacked him, trying to kill him.

Meanwhile, the God came to the Swordmaster, offering him anything he desired, if he’d kill the Priestess. He accepted, and went on his way. The apprentice, though, followed. The Master discovered him, and killed him for his treachery.

And so it was that the God and the Swordmaster arrived at roughly the same time at the temple where the Chieftain, the Priestess and the Bride were in conflict. The Priestess promised the God loyalty if he’d let her live, and he told the swordmaster that he’d have his wish, even if he let the Priestess live.

The entire party went down to the temple. The God was about to consummate the marriage, when the Bride broke free of his grasp, and plummeted into his holy basin. On the way, she broke one of her bottles of love potion on the side, so that the water was laced with the magic potion. The Priestess tried to kill the Bride, but instead, she swallowed some of the water. The Bride was killed by the combined efforts of the Swordsmaster, the God (who had promised her soul to the swordsmaster) and the Chieftain. In the end, the Bride and the Priestess were killed, and the God left the village.

The end

Thoughts in hindsight

This is the second time I’ve played IAWA. The first time it seemed to be running itself to a wide extent, without the GM taking a more controlling role than the rest of us, even if he did have two characters, as opposed to the rest of us. This time, however, I felt like I was really running it – not that I was running it like a regular game. Most of the time, I’d be leaving the scene setting to the players, simply asking: What are you doing now? But still, I felt like I was manipulating them a lot, deciding who would go when and steering them when it came to conflicting – especially negotiating consequences. I’m not proud to say it, but I have a feeling that may be part of the reason why my characters (the Swordsmaster and the Chieftain, and the Priestess in the first session) were the ones who fared the best.

Another reason may have been that I was relentlessly driving towards my Best interests, to a much higher extent than my players. I would almost always allow them to set the scene, but whenever my characters had a chance, I’d have them go for their Interests. The players, even though they had the initiative, would often set scenes that were somewhat directionless, and not moving them towards their interests.

Much of the time, especially in the first session, we had only a few conflicts. I have a feeling that may have got something to do with the above: because the players weren’t driving towards their interests, we weren’t getting into the kinds of situations where their intentions would clash. I did do a lot to try to provoke that, giving them opportunities to move against each other, but they didn’t grasp them as often as I would have liked.

That’s not to say it wasn’t a great game. We had a lot of fun, and I relished the experience of them taking over as much of the story as they did. I need to find more of this kind of PvP games to throw at them – suggestions are welcome!

As I said, this was my second time playing IAWA. It was my first time as a GM, though, and the first time playing it after having actually read the book. Now, most of the book is ok, with descriptions of how the rules work. But the most essential rules, and the ones you will most have to rapidly reference, the dice-mechanics, are only described through examples. I think I ended up running the game almost according to the book – but I am far from certain. This is really a shame: the game is great, but the communication of it makes it hard to get to. This won’t prevent me from playing it again. But it will mean that I will be less likely to introduce it to players who haven’t played it before, because I need to be well enough prepared to be able to run it without consulting the book on the spot.


One response to this post.

  1. Good that you are teaching the kids some proper roleplaying! Its interesting to see how the game facilitates both the supporting and the leading gamemaster types.

    PvP play takes some time to get on, it goes against everything we’ve been taught about roleplaying. The whole idea of getting in the way of another player is strongly discouraged in most games and it takes practice to realize you can do it without ruining someone else’s fun.

    I agree that this is one of the worst presentation of rules, examples are meant to add to the understanding of the game, not obscure it. I hope it was an experiment from the author.


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