Sword Without Master AP

image from ArtBreeder

filed under actual play on 05 Aug 2017
tagged misc, swords without master, rale, kitu, ever, and sword and sorcery

I stumbled across a fascinating system, Swords Without Master, and had to try it out. It’s just so clever and appealing, and so different from what I expect from an RPG.

I knew it’d be hard to solo, because a huge part of the narrative drive comes from the interplay of multiple players pushing against each other and the overplayer, but I wanted to try.

I’ll summarize a turn, badly, just so you can follow what’s happening in the AP. A tone is set, either Glum or Jovial, then the overplayer describes bad stuff happening. The player who the bad stuff is happening to describes how they struggle against that bad stuff, until the player who has the dice (who might or might not be the player the bad stuff is happening to) decides to roll, setting a personal tone, and then makes a definitive statement that resolves things somewhat.

There’s much more to it than that, of course. I believe people who say this is one of the most enjoyable games they’ve ever run; with the right group, this would be amazing. And it’s worth reading just to enjoy the prose and design.

At first I had vague ideas of just leaving the narrative push up to myself, but, as it turns out… I don’t challenge myself very well. So then I added a d6 roll to indicate when the player with the dice would act, and that worked okay, but I still wasn’t all that happy with it.

It was an interesting challenge, and I enjoyed it, but it was much more like a formal dance than my usual rollercoaster experience. I think I just need more structure to push against – setting the “tone” for the scene was just not quite enough, solo. I feel like if I go too far to the “writing” side of things, there’s not enough “game” to make things challenging.

I love my heroes and I think I’m going to translate them over to the system I’m working on for August’s OMGAM game.

The adventure begins...

Named my hero and adjusted my dice qualities; let's do a quick test.

Rolling 2d6 1 times.
[ 6 (Jovial) 2 (Glum) ] 8

... nice.

So I used my name generator to generate three names; now I need to find a picture ("eidolon" in the system) to represent each.

A quick goolge search, and I've got a picture for each of the three names that I like, meaning this is definitely going to be story with multiple heroes. Cool; the system seems like it would play well with multiple heroes.

Now I'm supposed to name several things each of my heroes cares about. I'll use things from their pictures.

My hero, Rale is a mage-type; he care about his gladius (used most often as a spear, just go with it), and he cares about his companions, but he won't admit to any of it.

His traveling companion is Ever of Aubre, a rogue who gets him into trouble as often as not. She's had a hard time of it and doesn't trust anyone.

Her named possessions are her katars, Grief and Sorrow.

Their final companion is the inscrutable and terrifying medusa, Ish-Kitu.

Kitu uses a bow or her deadly gaze or her venom or just crushes foes with her serpentine coils. She's the fighter of the group, as it works out. Ranger, more, perhaps.

Her named possessions are her bow and her curse.

Not going to define Feats Heroic just yet because I'm not sure I understand them.

Rale's Trick will be Unparalleled; he'll turn Jovial into Caustic.

Ever I think will be Undenied, giving her an extra Feat Heroic.

Still thinking for Ish-Kitu, but probably Adroit Prowess.

I'll track motifs in the Actor Tracker, Morals in the thread window, Mysteries too.

[New Actor] Motif 1,

Hmm, I need three.

[New Actor] Motif 2,

[New Actor] Motif 3,

Okay, so, taking the roll of the Overplayer first; I set the tone.

... I'm not using any of the advanced rules yet, just a few of the tricks. And I defined my Feats Heroic -- Kitu, for example, has "Glum: glares at someone and they turn to stone". I struggled with how to be "fair" on them, but ultimately it doesn't matter too much.

Rolling 2d6 1 times.
[ 5 (Jovial) 4 (Glum) ] 9

So it's a Jovial tone; we're all Jovial until someone rolls.

This is my first adventure, so we'll start with Perilous Phase.

So first I set the scene.

We're traveling towards our next destination, the abandoned city of Chang-Nah-Kin, where Kitu hopes to find a library of ancient lore. Rale's along because he hopes to find some new magic. Ever claims she just has nowhere better to be.

The steppes are hot and dusty, and the sand chokes all who pass. Rale keeps his veil up over his nose; this is his homeland, even if it's not where those of his blood originally sprang, and he's well familiar with the dangers of the desert.

Kitu is passing the time with a pleasant song in an ancient language, while her snake-hair hisses along. Her tail undulates in the sand, leaving an undeniable wave behind her.

There's dust on the horizon, kicked up from many horses.

This is the thunder; I metaphorically pick up the dice as the Overplayer.

[One Options] Rale, Kitu, Ever

[Choice] Kitu

I pass the dice to Kitu.

The riders sweep upon them before any thought of fleeing can be put into practice, though there's nowhere to go in the vast treeless plain. They are intent upon mayhem.

The party scatters, disorganized, as a rain of arrows pelts them from a short distance away and other riders charge through their midst.

They seem almost to be deliberately winnowing the party apart, as if to capture some.

One of the riders fearlessly charges into Kitu, his horse slamming into her shoulder and pushing her back.

Kitu's roll.

Rolling 2d6 1 times.
[ 3 (Jovial) 3 (Glum) ] 6


So things become Glum, first of all, and then Kitu is stymied, and it's a Mystery why.

I'm not ready to define her medusa/lamia powers so I'll just handle this physically.

She lets out a roar of indignation and lashes out with her tail, intent on tripping the horse, but it nimbly, as nimbly as if it saw it coming, side-steps.

Two of the other riders have cut between her and her companions, and she's too busy avoiding being trampled to register that she's being herded.

Kitu passes the dice to Rale.

[New Thread] How may one control such a wondrous beast as this?

I'll mark mysteries with "major" and morals with "minor", just because I'm too lazy to make those customizable.

One of the horsemen races up to Ever, perhaps mistaking her small size for weakness. He's going to overrun her without a word.

Ever dodges out of the way at the last moment. A hoof grazes her side but she's too focused on survival to notice it at the moment.

An arrow thuds down into the ground next to her, then another, and another, and it's all she can do to avoid being skewered with a dance of avoidance at first graceful, then growing more desperate.

The horseman attempting to run her down circles around for a second attempt, and she's left with two dangers -- avoid the arrows or the horse.

Rale's roll; he'll trip the horse up.

Rolling 2d6 1 times.
[ 6 (Jovial) 5 (Glum) ] 11

Rale's eyes are filled with savage glee as he lashes out with his spear, a makeshift weapon he mostly uses as a walking stick, and trips the horse at the last moment.

The horse goes down, along with its rider, but Rale's not quite quick enough to get out of the way completely and he goes down as well, tangled with the now screaming beast and its enraged rider.

Before he can scramble away, a hoof catches him in the temple, and he's out cold.

Pass the dice to the Overplayer.

So that's interesting. I think it needs something solo to indicate when the player will roll.

What if I roll a d6 after each paragraph, keeping each fairly short. I'll roll a d6 whenever a player might roll, and if they roll a 5 or a 6 they do.

Yeah, that sounds effective; I'll allow myself three "overrides" per game, just in case I really think I need a player to roll.

Okay, time for a Discovery phase.

First, set the Overtone.

Rolling 2d6 1 times.
[ 2 (Jovial) 1 (Glum) ] 3

I could ask some oracle questions but I'm just going to roll with my instincts here.

The sounds of revelry and the smell of a crackling bonfire wake Rale. A glance around shows that Ever is examining the wood walls for handholds while she waits for him to come around.

Overplayer picks up the dice; the revelry and bonfire are Thunder.

[One Options] Rale, Ever

[Choice] Ever

Overplayer hands the dice to Ever.

Rolling 2d6 1 times.
[ 1 (Jovial) 4 (Glum) ] 5

So the overtone is Jovial, but Ever is Glum.

The walls are smooth, the tops pointed; she could probably make it over but Rale can't. Besides, her side hurts; she's fairly sure she has a couple of broken ribs but there's no time for it.

The back wall has a gap, about a finger's width, that seems to lead into a cave of some sort.

Now time for a loaded question; we tear down the wall; what terrifying thing awaits in the caves beyond?

The overplayer takes the dice back, indicating we're moving into a new phase; Rogue.

The answer is spiders, who hate and fear the Riders and their serpent cult.

The revelry outside is getting louder, and sparks are visible over the top of the high walls.

The overplayer hands the dice to Rale. Show us how you escape into the cave system.

Rolling 2d6 1 times.
[ 1 (Glum) 5 (Jovial) ] 6

Rale focuses on the sparks outside, the very essence of the element. Channeling them through himself, he unleashes a burst of flame that leaves the wood burning around the narrow crevice but the path clear.

Rale hands the dice to Ever. Show us how you lead us through to daylight.

Rolling 2d6 1 times.
[ 2 (Jovial) 1 (Glum) ] 3

Interesting, our first Moral!

Ever draws her twin katars, Grief and Sorrow, and swiftly moves through the tunnels, deeming haste preferable to burning alive in the smoldering stockade.

Rale manages to keep up, but only barely; he's got a headache and there's a lot of smoke, and when she cuts through a spiderweb the trailing webs entangle in his hair.

[New Thread] Moral: Be thoughtful about those around you lest they get bitten by spiders.

The tunnel spills out into sunlight, but as their eyes adjust they realize it's not the outside, but rather a vast, circular chamber lit from a hole in the center of the dome.

Every surface is covered with webs and dust, and where there are webs, there are spiders...

A Perilous phase begins!

The thunder is the spiders, obviously. Roll for tone, then dice picked up and handed to--

[One Options] Ever, Rale, Kitu

[Choice] Ever

Rolling 2d6 1 times.
[ 6 (Glum) 3 (Jovial) ] 9

The shadows are moving, chittering, and the heat from the tunnel behind them is immense as the stockade outside burns.

Half a dozen hunting spiders the size of dogs pour out of crevices, swarming over the ground towards the sloping ledge where Rale and Ever are.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 1 ] 1

No roll yet.

Better make that 1d6+1 for each time it's been rolled, I think.

Otherwise we could be here forever.

One of the largest lunges, and Ever sidesteps, slashing at it with her daggers. Her foot slips on one of the webs, and she misses, cursing.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 2 ] 2

So 3, no roll yet.

Rale is using short bursts of flame, channeled from the flame outside, to singe the spiders, but he has to be careful or the whole place will go up, with them in it.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 2 ] 2

That's 4.

I think I should make it just a straight roll; otherwise it's too easy to predict!

They fight, side by side, down into the center of the chamber, as more spiders pour in.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 4 ] 4

Rale suddenly drops to one knee. He feels dizzy, weak. He knocks the next spider away with a blast but the magic sparks and sputters at his fingertips.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 6 ] 6

Finally, Ever acts!

Rolling 2d6 1 times.
[ 2 (Glum) 1 (Jovial) ] 3

Ha, another Moral!

Oh, and I'm adding a giant room, webbed and dusty, to my motifs.

Grimly, Ever skewers another of the spiders, then looks around for an exit as Rale struggles back to his feet. There's a massive tunnel behind them, and no spiders between the dark hall.

Going to pass the dice to Kitu now.

The two of them stagger towards the dark hall, and something massive moves within. A spider the size of an elephant, multifaceted eyes gleaming in the sunlight, poison dripping from fangs that could cut a man in half.

So I'm not sure how much I like the d6, roll 5+ to have the player roll, but I'm not sure what I could do instead.

I'm also struggling to remember to use the "tone" properly; I'm mentally converting it to grim.

Have to think about it. Does she roll?

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 1 ] 1

The spider lunges forward as its smaller kin scatter.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 2 ] 2

Grimly, Rale begins drawing in power, pulling it from the fire outside, and from the water in the blood of the spiders dead at their feet.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 3 ] 3

Ever's seen this before; her blades flash reflected sunlight as she moves like a whirlwind, cutting down wave after wave of hunting spider, but being driven ever closer to the massive beast.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 2 ] 2

... yeah, that's not working. I need a better method. I may just go to 4+, ie, 50-50. But I need some way to weight it.

What if it's roll plus 1 for each thing the hero cares about or companion in danger? That seems reasonable; target number of 5-6.

If I were playing with just one hero, I'd put the overplayer as the computer and play the heroes myself. I'll try that next scene, I think.

The spider hisses, a chilling sound, and lunges--

Rolling 2d6 1 times.
[ 5 (Glum) 2 (Jovial) ] 7

The snap of a bowstring, and the creature rears back, an arrow buried in one of its eyes. Another wings past to join its mate, and the spider drops back into the shadows.

Hand the dice to Rale.

Rolling 2d6 1 times.
[ 1 (Glum) 2 (Jovial) ] 3

"Run," Rale roars, his eyes the color of flame, and an explosive blast of fire, fuelled by energy drawn over the past few moments, surges from his fingers into the dark tunnel.

Instantly the massed webs light up like torches, and the hideous screaming of spiders as they are consumed is deafening.

Okay, scene's over; hand dice back to the Overplayer.

Next scene will be Discovery.

Rolling 2d6 1 times.
[ 4 (Glum) 1 (Jovial) ] 5

Glum again!

… that’s where I decided to call it quits for now.