Monday, May 28, 2018

Sand's Block

If you've not been following along with this series, you'll want to start with this index post, with a list of the foregoing content relative to what's written below.

In the morning, after a long chat with the chieftain of Stavanger the night before, the party will be gently asked where they spend their second night, as the chief's long house will be closed.  Two options will be given: that they can visit the shaman, and possibly be allowed to dwell in his house, or they can seek their clans people and seek their hospitality.  Either will do, but we'll start with the clan of Sand, which the reader will remember is the party's clan.

Now, parties will tend to wander about aimlessly, making enemies with the Verda or the Orre, by stumbling into those parts of the village.  As the party will be recognized instantly as Sand clan, by the way their clothes are made and the motifs on their leather garments, as well as the shape of their head and their noses, the party will get little out of this rubbernecking except to get themselves thrown out of Stavanger by a chieftain who wants only peace.  So I suggest that we create a guide, a nice big fellow who can clout a rude party member in the chief's name if someone gets too friendly with people who don't want to be friends.  We'll call this person Nidhogg, because it will be remembered (as at least extravagantly different, until heard often enough).

Nidhogg takes the party over to their people and they are immediately met by their cousins ~ no direct family, those are all in Haugaland.  The party means three young men named Knut, Dag and Ulfmaerr, and two women named Alfdis and Norna, and of course Mother Yulene, who is the head of the clan.  I've gotten all these names from this invaluable site, which can be sorted by name origin.

Let's define the block's character.

  • Personality: welcoming, loyal, friendly, supportive.  This is the party's family ... and they will act like a family, because they will also recognize the features of the party that define them as Sand.  This is a low-development characteristic, that helps define the 9th century Stavanger culture (and cultures in my world that exist at this level in the year 1650).
  • Player Needs: a home, food, company, potential allies, information about Stavanger in the way of rumor and story.

To unlock the rewards the block offers, the players must adventure; and when they arrive in the block, as DMs we must measure their worthiness of that adventure before revealing what the reward would be.  We want to play our cards close to our vest.

The players can't stride haughtily among their people, led by Nidhogg, and then stick out their hands and shout, "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!"  Though that's exactly how I've seen parties act, when told, "This is your game family."  We've all seen players who treat their family like some third arm that exists to perform instant favors ... which is strange, given that families are usually the last people in the world willing to do anything for you without strings attached.  Families are often prone to high expectations, giving advice, refusing aid "for your own good" and otherwise resisting our choice to pursue this adventuring life when we ought to be at home, working, marrying, producing kids and acting all respectable and like.

So we should expect Alfdis' father to push the girl on the most attractive member of the party, and to have Norna's mother waiting to do the same when it is her daughter's turn.  We should expect Mother Yulene to break it up, with, "It can be talked about later," while starting a litany of inquiries about home, family, who's recently been married or whatever else she can get out of the party.  We don't need to concentrate on details ... but we do want to measure the players' love of their existing family in Stavanger.

Yes, love.  If the Sand clan is ready to feed and house these strangers, who happen to have similar habits, it's only fair that the players show pleasure at meeting their family, a show of generosity, some curiosity about how old Alfdis is (she is quite attractive) and appreciation for that which they are receiving.  This is almost impossible for players.  Embarrassing, even.  Words like, "I pick the little girl up and swing her around, and ask how old she is, and tell her she's a brave child," just do not turn up on the lips of strong tough adventurer fighters ... which is all the more reason why this is a unique and interesting situation.  And why a lack of friendliness should be noted.

Oh, no one should say anything outright.  But we should describe the appearance of the Sand clans people as diminishing: "They seem disappointed; they are looking at your suspiciously; the way you're all sitting together, in that aloof way, has caused your family to draw away from you; several are looking at you, then talking about you, then looking away with worried, upset or judging looks on their faces."

We might mitigate this a little by saying, before Nidhogg shows the way, "People, these are your family; they are very close to you in ways and speech; you feel comfortable around them.  You've heard tales about these people told by your fathers and mothers.  These are not wholly strangers ... so be careful to show them respect and kindness."  But, sigh, I know parties, and that probably wouldn't work.

But let's say that it does, and the party gets a tour of the block.  They spend the night around the fire in the wide clearing, they see the forest and take note that there's an eight foot high wall of brush and thorns that has been built between the trees, they are shown the tanning tents and at one, the tent on the hex boundary in the map above, they meet two friendly fellows from the Orre clan: Ingharr and his brother Ingemar.  The discourse is brief and suggests there's some tension, but this tanning area is nevertheless shared.

The party is shown the enormous rock, marked by the letter A.  This rock is 20 feet long and ten feet high.  It it like a cairn laying on its side; it has been carved and it serves as a monolith for Stavanger.  The whole village has permission to come and read the rock, and touch it. The images tell of the destruction of the froglings, the final successful battle of Harald Fairhair that made him King of Norway, the Viking tradition and, most recently, the founding of Iceland, that took place 18 years ago.  These things hardly touch Stavanger directly; this is just too backward a village to take part in such escapades.  But the villagers know about it, and Chief Horik certainly has ambitions to teach his people how to build galleys and sail.  Those things will not come to Stavanger for centuries (in my world), but they will come.

Marked by the letter B will be a tanning tent that will, instead, contain an enormous cage that contains a large wolf.  This is the wolf that killed the child, that the party learned about in Horik's house.  The wolf was not captured, it gave itself up of its own accord to the Shaman, who led it into the village two nights ago and then into this cage (built ready for the Shaman's return).

The wolf is snarling and vicious, and obviously dangerous.  When it howls, the air shakes.  It hurls itself at the wooden wand bars of the cage, made of saplings, and the cage trembles as though it will break open.  The story is told that the spirit of the child that was killed is still tied to the wolf; that it is the child trying to break free, not the wolf.  The Shaman has been in communication with the child and has learned what must happen, for the good of Stavanger.

The party is told that in two days, the wolf will be released into the woods east of the village, where it will be trapped between the village and the sea, except along the south edge.  Every hearty male in the village will be waiting in the forest, to hunt the beast.  Whoever succeeds in killing the wolf will become the child spirit's guardian. This male must then take the place of the child's father, and lay with the child's bereaved mother, whereupon the spirit child's kin will be implanted into the mother and the spirit child will be freed.  The clan that kills the wolf, and the Harald clan, will be bonded together forever.  If a member of the Harald clan destroys the wolf, this will be an especially good omen, telling that the newborn child will one day become Chief of Stavanger.

If the wolf escapes, surely, this will be a Bad Omen.  There is no telling what will happen.

Whereupon the party should be asked, "Will you hunt the wolf with us?"

The unlocked reward of the block, then, is the opportunity for experience, combat, the respect of the village even if the players takes part, and the risk that a player will have to perform in bed with a woman of the Harald clan.  Obviously, this would result in a connection with the Haralds, and other opportunities. Status is involved, but more especially wealth, as success in this venture would bring many gifts.

4 comments:

Pandred said...

This one has taken some ruminating. I'll be honest I'm at a loss how I'd even begin to run such an area when just reading gives me some performance anxiety.

And yet it sounds really freakin' awesome. Now I have to figure how to get there.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Okay, well, let's just parse that out a bit.

It doesn't have to be performed. I understand how the description would be challenging; I talked about that in my last masterclass, how having to describe things you don't know can be a trap for a DM. For myself, I would try to keep this simple: there are houses, some people approach the party, hi hi, glad to meet you, we're your cousins, come and have some dinner.

Then, see how the party responds and imagine how you would respond if your family came to meet you from far away and acted like the party does. Would you be happy? Would you be unhappy. Keep it simple. If the party acts in a way that you think would make you happy, then go with it, like any of us would. Hey, want to have a tour of our area? Look, here's the rock, here's the cage. Here's a story about this wolf.

And there you are. This block is mostly just exposition.

The main takeaway I want the reader to gain from this, Pandred, is seeing how Personality, Player Need, Adventure and Reward can be built out of almost nothing. A home, a bunch of friendly people, there's a contest about to happen, you get presents if you win. It doesn't have to have the nuance I created here. I'm just used to building as deeply as I can, with a feeling that I can run it. But I'm also a writer. So that helps.

Hope that relaxes you some.

Ozymandias said...

I often run into this when running the game, where I have an idea for the scene and a good sense of how to convey it, but I just don't feel comfortable. Sometimes it's because my acting isn't very good (or so I think), sometimes it's to do with the emotions involved, sometimes I'm just tired. I handle this by slipping between first- and third-person exposition, and I've found my players don't mind at all, so long as information about the game keeps flowing.

If you want to get better at the acting part, look for opportunity to act, perhaps doing an improv group or community theater. If you want to improve your exposition, read the kinds of books that inspire you, or try writing your own stories and sharing them with a writing group for feedback.

(Not that you're not aware of how to improve, Pandred; I mean to offer this more for other readers.)

Ozymandias said...

I'm loving this series, particularly for the examples provided in this post. They're an excellent look at how people think (and on some level, I find it baffling that so many players (and DMs) don't recognize this). Your choice to set the stage in an earlier era is helpful as well, as it highlights the human behavior. When you add the technology and developments of later eras, it's almost like it's easier to forget that people are still people ~ even if the block was a part of a much larger community, its people would still know each other and form close connections, and probably have similar attitudes toward strangers.