Trollbabe & Stranger Things Actual Play

image from ArtBreeder

filed under actual play on 04 Dec 2016
tagged trollbabe, stranger things, narrative, declan, and demonblood

A short log in which I demonstrate that I might, in fact, have some sort of multiple personality disorder. Not that that’s a surprise to me – my GM notes are littered with notes to my future self like “Hahaha, this is where they discover she’s a traitor!” and “Oh, he’s a ghost, that’s so evil, I bet the party freaks out!”. Past-me is hilarious but disturbingly pleased at tormenting my players.

Anyway, no long rambly essay this time. This AP is an experiment with Trollbabe/Stranger Things, continuing my exploration of narrative games and featuring my character from the S\lay w/Me actual play.

I really like the Trollbabe system, more so when it’s expanded by Stranger Things. It’s light, elegant, and plays very fast. That said, I’m finding it’s hard to play both sides of a game that’s not very heavy on the “game” aka rules. Entirely my failing, I think – I enjoyed the play but I think I’m going to convert the character to something a little more substantial for the next sequence.

Probably Lady Blackbird with some homebrew. I’m pretty fickle and I’ve been really enjoying working with Lady Blackbird to a pretty ridiculous degree. Like I’m thinking I could literally convert every character I have active. And it’s very tempting…

By the way, did I mention earlier how much of a relief discovering the idea of different “stances” was? All these years, thinking I was trying my best to play “in character” but never being really satisfied with the tension between what was best for me-as-character and what was best for the-character-as-story. Such a relief to have a frame for it, and to know that other people play purely from authorial stance and it’s not robbing the GM of authority or making the world less valid or playing the “game” part wrong.

Note that everything after “the adventure begins” is my thoughts from a few days ago, as I actually played.

The adventure begins...

And here we go. I think I understand the rules. It's funny, I sometimes have to read the rules over and over before they "stick" all the way through to actual play but I've never encountered rules I had to read over and over just to "get"!

I hate to change things up significantly before I even try a system out, but I just am not feeling the concept of an actual Trollbabe right now.

So I've reskinned things a bit -- there are now two factions, "human" which mainly consists of Dark Age humans huddled in huts and great halls and "supernatural" which consists of the things that eat, torment, chase, withold gold from, curse, bewitch, and otherwise inconvenience those humans.

My hero is the half-demon established in my Slay With Me game; his fate was to be banished from Faerie and into the mortal realm. He's also been healed of his wounds, as I won that as a goal.

I've fleshed out a few types of magic; human, demon, and fae. Human magic is alchemy and science and bits and pieces stolen from the other types, along with rituals to bind and coerce the supernatural, whether in the name of a God or merely from scholarship.

Demon magic is the magic of emotion and wrinkling reality and fire; it always leaves a mark -- on the one who invokes it, on the area, on innocents, it does not matter. For a demon to affect creatures other than himself requires sacrifice and a bargain, however tenuous.

Fae magic is the magic of wild places and wild creatures, of moonlight and shadow, of water and truth you don't recognize even though you see it because you're dazzled by the misdirection.

... and I just finished the first part of Stranger Things, an adaptation of Trollbabe that I am liking greatly, even if it's not really my cup of tea as far as flavor goes.

I'm definitely going to use some of the conventions and rules tweaks I like out of Stranger Things. So far that's that the Stranger is tough and strong and ageless, and the slightly different injury track and more specific healing rules.

I also like the way it handles rerolls, but I'll streamline the categories down to the gist, entirely because I don't have enough space for all 25 in the tracker panel, keeping the "five from a single group or one from up to five groups" rule.

Since I don't really do sessions, at least not discrete ones, I will count a good night's rest or a relaxation scene as a session break for the purpose of the rules -- which means rerolls will refresh, an injury box goes away, and so on.

I know nothing else at this point. Well, except that I want to contrast his previous life with this nasty brutish one.


I am myself. I am canny, brutal, experienced. I laugh at the gods. I delight in life. My foes meet death swiftly. I am a demon's child and heir to its power, but I am beautiful and good. I relish my physical form and action; my mouth is cruel but I never lie.

His number is 6; he is 1 - 4 for Blood, 6 - 10 for Flame, and 1 - 5 for Shadow. His Blood style is athletic, his Flame is demon magic, and his Shadow is charming/seductive.

His hair is pale blond, spiky and pulled back. He has two pairs of horns, both bone white; the upper, spiraled set curves back and blends into his hair, and the lower set, smaller, smooth and swept back, are just above his slightly pointed ears.

He carries a sword forged from human iron and magical metal shards and carries a few more shards in his flesh. He wears an elegant black suit that wouldn't look out of place on a ballroom floor and that never seems to get dirty or damaged. His hooded cloak, black mask, and black boots are made by much less skilled hands.

I think I will continue the I/you thing, at least for now. Helps me keep the roles straight, since I am playing dual parts. I don't think it's quite as crucial in Trollbabe, though, given that a number of things will by necessity be subsumed into "there's only one of us!"

Author/Director, maybe? I'm uncertain about the first person and second person voices -- I tend towards third -- and about the present tense, but it makes for such an exciting game!


For the starting location, I choose Barrows Hall, a wooden great hall in the midst of a windswept moor, near a swamp and near a sea, and near a vast forest. Scale is 1.


How to determine Stakes? Which generator to use, let's see.

Mythic Seed?

[Mythic Complex] Release / Stalemate

The local warrior-king is in a stalemate with an ancient ghost warrior, who nightly circles his great hall and challenges his warriors to duels they cannot hope to win. The warrior-king has forbidden his men to confront it, and their morale and loyalty sinks nightly.

The Bishop claims to be warding the Hall itself with divine grace, but then why can God not defeat the ghost itself?

The Stakes is the ghost.

You're trudging along in a cold, wet rain, carrying everything you own and with no particular place to go. This world is the very definition of squalor, her people fearful and superstitious and weak. You could describe to them the splendor of the Palace of the Seven Veils or the luxury of a demon prince's castle, but they would only stare at you blankly, their minds filled with thoughts of fields and sows and winter.

Most seem to not quite see you; they sense you are different and powerful, but their minds cannot grasp how different you truly are.

[Random Event] Context: World! A hidden enemy is revealed. This is spectacularly good.

A crossbow bolt zings out of the trees; an ambush!

I call for a Conflict; it is Blood, as the demon hunter who has tracked you here attempts to dispatch you.


And then there are the ones who can see clearly and yet can't seem to see the truth. I sigh and draw my sword, darting into the trees in pursuit of yet another poor fool who believes horns mean "evil".

I intend to subdue and, if necessary, kill the demon hunter; failing that, I'll try to escape into the woods.

Let's see, is the hunter alone?

[fifty-fifty, 89 ≥ 50] NO

Rolling 1d4 1 times.
[ 2 ] 2 + 0 = 2

A couple of cohorts, sounds good. Scared villagers, I think, who have been roused into this.

What's the hunter like?

[Age - Mature] Mid-twenties.

[Gender Appearance] male

[Visible Quirk] typical hair color for a group

[Visible Quirk] repellant

He has a couple of scared looking villagers with him; they look at me, puzzled, as if trying to figure out how I could be the fearsome demon he's promised they'll defeat.

He's reloading his crossbow, shouting at them to attack.

So, I'll try the middle range Pace, best two out of three.

And just a straight d10 roll.

Rolling 1d10 1 times.
[ 5 ] 5 + 0 = 5

A failure, so that's a "Bruised" result. And I get to narrate it.

One of the two, a terrified looking boy, rushes me and swings wildly; I can't bring myself to skewer him and instead knock his makeshift polearm aside. The demon hunter fires, heedless of the boy in his way, and I push him aside and take the bolt that would have split his skull in my shoulder.

Well, I can't accept defeat yet, but since it's best out of three I'll see how the next one goes before spending a reroll.

Rolling 1d10 1 times.
[ 1 ] 1 + 0 = 1

Nice, a success for me!

The boy sees the bolt and the trajectory and puts two and two together; he knows the hunter will not hesitate to kill him or his friend if need be. He does the sensible thing and runs, and his friend takes off after him.

Rolling 1d10 1 times.
[ 6 ] 6 + 0 = 6

Ouch, failure. Probably should have tried switching to a Shadow roll there to chase him off or something. Wait, can I even do that?

Now I'm down to half my boxes unchecked. I'll spend a reroll to try and turn this into a success, I think. I'll use "a carried item", his sword.

The demon hunter, with his stringy, unwashed hair and stench, is at least no coward; he draws his blade and we exchange blows as I circle for an opening. He draws first blood as I stumble; I feel weak and feverish and suspect the bolt was poisoned.

Rolling 1d10 1 times.
[ 6 ] 6 + 0 = 6

Another reroll; this one is emotion.

Anger seethes in me; it is never far from the surface, and the twin injustices of this unprovoked attack and the near slaughter of an innocent boy flame the fires.

Rolling 1d10 1 times.
[ 6 ] 6 + 0 = 6


That was... three sixes in a row...

I lunge forward. Even if I surrender to darkness, he will not survive to gloat about it. And something hits me from behind, and I go down.

Before I hand off the scene to the director who will narrate what's happened to my hero, I'm going to add a couple of relationships.

One is to the boy whose life I saved. The other is the mysterious ally who was smart enough to bushwhack my hero.

[New Actor] Mykel, a villager who was saved from a hunter's carelessness by the hero

[Age - Mature] Mid-twenties.

[Gender Appearance] female

[Visible Quirk] thin or underfed

Hmm, I wonder what her angle is?

[New Actor] Caith Quinn, demon hunter, very stealthy


You groan as your senses slowly return. Your skin feels like it's on fire and your head hurts, but you seem to be in one piece, more or less. You're in a wooden stockade, and it's dark. Your clothes and gear are gone.

You arch an eyebrow in bemusement at the idea that wood could imprison a demon -- but stop short at the very cleverly laid binding circle inscribed into the wood poles of your prison.


I prowl the perimeter, looking for any weaknesses I can exploit. Before I can find any, the gate swings open. A Bishop, flanked by the demon hunter and a woman I surmise is his ally -- thin and waifish, with a hungry look in her eyes that I find disturbing. Behind them, a warrior with a thin gold circlet and a golden cloak pin watches.

The Bishop makes the sign of the cross, and I scowl at him. "This is poor hospitality indeed," I say, gesturing towards myself and my current impoverished state.

Conflict, Shadow; I want my clothes back! And possibly to be set free.

Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 6 ] 6 + 0 = 6


Rolling 1d6 1 times.
[ 2 ] 2 + 0 = 2

It's not broken. Hahaha. I'm just rolling sixes!

I am totally keeping that roll for my reroll.

He doesn't seem to hear me. He's still mumbling somethig in Latin that sounds vaguely like a litany.

"You'll be burned at the stake," the demon hunter says, sounding satisfied. No doubt he hopes to be paid well for the show. I stare blackly at him.

"And it only took four of you from ambush, with poison, to arrange it," I say scornfully. I look over his shoulder at the warrior, but I have very little hope. "At least let me die with a weapon in hand."


He stares at you for a moment, and then offers you a deal; face the ghost that haunts this place in single combat tonight, or die by fire in the morning.


... I'm immune to fire. Demon, remember? But they don't know that.

I add to the bargain, listing my demands clearly and precisely. I want my clothes and gear back, and I want proper meals and safe passage for the duration of my stay and for three days after.

He agrees, and I can't help but smile.

"A bargain struck," I say, and the Bishop immediately begins to protest, but it's too late. A snap of my fingers returns my clothes to my skin and my sword to its sheath; a bargain is a very powerful thing for one of my kind.

If any under his banner break our bargain, the warrior-king will pay for it.

The warrior-king looks like he's having second thoughts, but I don't care. Pushing past the hunters and the red-faced Bishop, I glance around. "When's dinner?"


I think that's a great place to close out that scene. And you get back a health box, since you'll rest and recuperate for the afternoon. Which also counts as a session end, so you're back up to full rerolls and full health.

Also, you can claim those relationships on the basis of rolls but you can't solidify them until you actually play a scene out that clearly establishes those relationships.

[author] Fine, I'll mark those entries with a T for "tentative". Shame Stranger Things doesn't have a relationships chapter, by the way. I'm also going to add the Bishop as a tentative enemy relationship.

[New Actor] Bishop of Barrows Hall, quite annoyed about not burning a demon at the stake.

I'm going to add a few actors so I can keep track of them.

[New Actor] King Ganeth, warrior-king of Barrows Hall.

[New Actor] Ulter, demon hunter, an unsavory sort willing to use poison for a payday.

By the way, I'm randomly generating every single name in this. The hero's name is also randomly generated but just happened to get through the markov generator as an actual name. I'm just picking the ones I like best out of those offered.

Ok, author, any suggestions for the next scene?

[author] Well, we could go right to confronting the ghost. Or we could do the rest scene. Maybe one of the actors has something to say to us.

Do they?

[fifty-fifty, 51 ≥ 50] NO

Confrontation it is, then.

Night falls swiftly; you've spent the afternoon enjoying King Ganeth's hospitality, such as it is. A large, smoke-filled hall with dirty, greasy rushes on the floor, pinch-faced women in dun colored skirts that sweep the floor, and a bunch of tough-talking, uneducated louts with swords.

They've gathered to watch you off, and you're getting evil looks that suggest success will be as unwelcome as failure. You remind yourself that it's better than Hell, for the thousandth time since you arrived here, and stride out to meet the feared ghost of Barrow Hall.

The ghost is indistinct and wavers in the light of the full moon. You can see scraps of armor, rotted away straps, and a dented helm. It carries a very wicked polearm that gleams as if newly forged.

[author] I call for a conflict, Shadow. I want to see if it will tell me why it is here. And I'm jumping in before you ambush me again.

"What brings you here, spirit?" I demand, dropping my hand to my sword hilt. The king's bargain was sloppy, and I have only to face the ghost, not defeat it or even challenge it, but I am feeling generous.

Is it angry at someone?

[fifty-fifty, 68 ≥ 50] NO

Is it looking for something?

[fifty-fifty, 87 ≥ 50] NO

Then it's being coerced or called. Coerced?

[fifty-fifty, 53 ≥ 50] NO

So called, then.

Rolling 1d10 1 times.
[ 8 ] 8

Ouch, failure, so you won't find that out. Should probably roll before asking the oracle next time!

The spirit is mumbling to itself but you can't make out the words. It shifts its stance, and moves swiftly towards you in an attack.

I think it's time to dispense with strict rules on who calls the Conflict and who sets the Pace; I'm just going to do it based on what seems logical.

I don't think demon magic has much to offer in this case, so Blood. Declan wants to disincorporate the spirit.

Best of three; Exchange level.

Rolling 1d10 1 times.
[ 9 (Luck) ] 9

My foot slips as I draw my sword and duck out of the way; the field is muddy from the rain and it's hard to keep my footing, but I manage to catch only a glancing blow.

Reroll, let's see, A geographical feature.

I duck backwards, coming up short against the palisade gate where the ground is hard-packed. I have no more room to retreat, but I don't need it.

Rolling 1d10 1 times.
[ 1 (Finesse) ] 1


The ghost churns forward, polearm swinging wide, and I dart forward and remove its head from its shoulders. My blade is forged of iron and fae metal and demon blood; the spirit collapses into a thousand tiny moths that spiral up into the sky in a most dramatic fashion.

I sheath my sword and glance up at the darkness over the gate, where the entire court is watching, mouths open. "If you don't mind," I say, rapping a knuckle on the closed gate, "I could use a drink."

The power of our bargain means I can enter without asking, at will, for the next three days but there's no sense in demonstrating that right now. They look spooked enough as it is.

I think there'll be a huge feast, and maybe we'll meet some actors who encourage us to care about solving this problem fully. Or maybe something else will happen... it's up to the dice!