Swords Without Master at Chicago Gameday 41

Dain Lybarger facilitated a game of Swords Without Master for me, Willow Palecek, Shari Corey, and Tim Jensen this past Saturday at Gameday 41. I’d ever played before, not really read the rules (yes, I am one of those patron’s of Eppy’s who has yet to find time to read SWoM; sue me).

I created a rogue called Dove, with a named sword and backstory about murderous soldiering and such. Dain started us off using what I think was an introductory scenario from the rules; the opening scene had the four of us clinging to a high tower during the Carnival of Dreams.

I really enjoyed the vent, but it was sort of rough going. SWoM reminded me a lot of games like Polaris and even Blood Red Sands, which are very ritualistic and benefit from both mastery and spontaneity; you really need to be “on” the whole time you’re playing this game. I enjoyed it, but definitely feel like I need to review the rules and play a few more times to really get it.

Our adventure became very “wahoo”, which I don’t know is entirely the intent. I said to Dain that I’d have liked some sort of “getting on the same page” pre-game phase to help us establish more cohesive fiction later on.

Willow also made an interesting point about how you don’t always have agency in the game, as anyone can narrate things your rogue does or experiences. For her, that was a deal-breaker. For me, I’m on the fence. I think it could be very cool, but I also don’t know if I’d choose it over something a little more traditional w/r/t who gets to say what about “my guy”.

Nonetheless, I had a lot of fun. I look forward to trying it again.

#chicagogameday #chicagogameday41

22 thoughts on “Swords Without Master at Chicago Gameday 41

  1. Regarding the “deal-breaker” part, I think you were playing wrong. On p. 17: 

    • Knowing the Mind of a Rogue. No one may tell you what your rogue is thinking or feeling. They may go so far as to tell you what your rogue is compelled by sorcery to think or feel, but ultimately this most private of realms is yours and yours alone.

    • The Rogues of Others. In your narration, you may not narrate the actions or thoughts of another’s rogue. You may invite them to join you and even suggest how. However, the other rogues’ players must narrate for their rogues. They may either narrate as invited or decline, but they cannot significantly alter your narration. If you hold the bones, you are still in charge.

  2. < ![CDATA[Regarding the "deal-breaker" part, I think you were playing wrong. On p. 17:  • Knowing the Mind of a Rogue. No one may tell you what your rogue is thinking or feeling. They may go so far as to tell you what your rogue is compelled by sorcery to think or feel, but ultimately this most private of realms is yours and yours alone. • The Rogues of Others. In your narration, you may not narrate the actions or thoughts of another’s rogue. You may invite them to join you and even suggest how. However, the other rogues’ players must narrate for their rogues. They may either narrate as invited or decline, but they cannot significantly alter your narration. If you hold the bones, you are still in charge.]]>

  3. Michael Miller But what where you can ask questions or make demands that imply actions? “Show me how your rogue left the courtyard bathed in blood.” What if I had no intention of bathing the courtyard in blood? Or did we get that wrong?

  4. < ![CDATA[Michael Miller But what where you can ask questions or make demands that imply actions? "Show me how your rogue left the courtyard bathed in blood." What if I had no intention of bathing the courtyard in blood? Or did we get that wrong?]]>

  5. I’ve had the gonzo factor happen to me in convention games as well, there aren’t any tools baked in to really counter it other than maybe enforcing the tones with a heavier hand than I think is implied by how they’re described in the text.

    You are not wrong that being “on” all the time is a definite benefit. I’ve had fun games with strangers but the best ones have been with others who have played the game (i.e. system mastery) and are comfortable reigning each other in socially if things start to get gonzo.

  6. < ![CDATA[I've had the gonzo factor happen to me in convention games as well, there aren't any tools baked in to really counter it other than maybe enforcing the tones with a heavier hand than I think is implied by how they're described in the text. You are not wrong that being "on" all the time is a definite benefit. I've had fun games with strangers but the best ones have been with others who have played the game (i.e. system mastery) and are comfortable reigning each other in socially if things start to get gonzo.]]>

  7. You’re right. the demands in rogues phase do work like that. Part of the challenge in a case like that is figuring out how you left the courtyard bathed in blood, but your rogue didn’t actually spill anyone’s blood, or the like.

    Also, there’s nothing expressly forbidden about requesting a different demand at the player level. Kinda like an X card.

    There is definitely a skill to learning how to make demands that put fruitful creative constraint on your fellow players without writing their characters for them.

  8. < ![CDATA[You're right. the demands in rogues phase do work like that. Part of the challenge in a case like that is figuring out how you left the courtyard bathed in blood, but your rogue didn't actually spill anyone's blood, or the like. Also, there's nothing expressly forbidden about requesting a different demand at the player level. Kinda like an X card. There is definitely a skill to learning how to make demands that put fruitful creative constraint on your fellow players without writing their characters for them.]]>

  9. It’s definitely a game that has a range of experiences based on the buy in/familiarity of the players. That isn’t to say that a veteran player will always be more enjoyable to game with, but sometimes a lack of familiarity can make the game more difficult.

  10. < ![CDATA[It's definitely a game that has a range of experiences based on the buy in/familiarity of the players. That isn't to say that a veteran player will always be more enjoyable to game with, but sometimes a lack of familiarity can make the game more difficult.]]>

  11. When you get a chance to read the rules check out the Ritual of the Weird and the Ritual of the Outlier. They don’t precisely address gonzo and the deal-breaker*, but they are ways to get folks on the same page.

    *”Gonzo and the Deal-Breaker” sound like morning radio DJs.

  12. < ![CDATA[When you get a chance to read the rules check out the Ritual of the Weird and the Ritual of the Outlier. They don't precisely address gonzo and the deal-breaker*, but they are ways to get folks on the same page. *"Gonzo and the Deal-Breaker" sound like morning radio DJs.]]>

  13. Hey Gonzo, long-time listener, first-time caller.

    I’ll add to this that I love games that force me to take a truth about my character and incorporate it. I went from absolutely hating this to discovering that it was a wonderful way to exercise my creative muscles and that it could lead to some really interesting stuff. “Ok, so I guess that’s true about me now. Let’s figure out how to make this work.”

    I get that, without a safety valve, that can lead to some very ugly behavior at the table with the wrong group. So I don’t blame anyone for not being able to countenance that.

  14. < ![CDATA[Hey Gonzo, long-time listener, first-time caller. I'll add to this that I love games that force me to take a truth about my character and incorporate it. I went from absolutely hating this to discovering that it was a wonderful way to exercise my creative muscles and that it could lead to some really interesting stuff. “Ok, so I guess that’s true about me now. Let’s figure out how to make this work.”
    I get that, without a safety valve, that can lead to some very ugly behavior at the table with the wrong group. So I don’t blame anyone for not being able to countenance that.]]>

  15. If a player really likes to “inhabit” their character, incorporating the outside demands can be off-putting. In SwoM, you are telling the tale first, & inhabiting your character second, in terms of priority. That can be counter to some players’ preferences, yet not immediately obvious at the start of the game.

    Epidiah Ravachol​ I hadn’t realized that the Ritual of the Outlier could be used in that fashion! I’d locked-in on it as a guide to NPC behavior. I get it, now. (I also didn’t bring either of those two rules up, since I was just teaching the basics of the game. I now see that I should have.)

    Since Carnival of Dreams has such a cinematic opening, I went with the idea that, like cinematic reveals, we’d discover the nature of the world through play. Maybe a bit of discussion beforehand to get us all on the same page with our expectations about the world would have been beneficial. I feel like we flailed around a little, & more gonzo/high-magic answers solved that because “magic can solve anything”. I totally failed to escalate by showing the dark cost of sorcery in tales like this. If I had, we’d probably have stopped at just the one flying sword…

  16. < ![CDATA[If a player really likes to "inhabit" their character, incorporating the outside demands can be off-putting. In SwoM, you are telling the tale first, & inhabiting your character second, in terms of priority. That can be counter to some players' preferences, yet not immediately obvious at the start of the game. Epidiah Ravachol​ I hadn't realized that the Ritual of the Outlier could be used in that fashion! I'd locked-in on it as a guide to NPC behavior. I get it, now. (I also didn't bring either of those two rules up, since I was just teaching the basics of the game. I now see that I should have.) Since Carnival of Dreams has such a cinematic opening, I went with the idea that, like cinematic reveals, we’d discover the nature of the world through play. Maybe a bit of discussion beforehand to get us all on the same page with our expectations about the world would have been beneficial. I feel like we flailed around a little, & more gonzo/high-magic answers solved that because “magic can solve anything”. I totally failed to escalate by showing the dark cost of sorcery in tales like this. If I had, we’d probably have stopped at just the one flying sword…]]>

  17. “In SwoM, you are telling the tale first, & inhabiting your character second, in terms of priority. That can be counter to some players’ preferences, yet not immediately obvious at the start of the game.”

    Really well said, Dain Lybarger!

  18. < ![CDATA["In SwoM, you are telling the tale first, & inhabiting your character second, in terms of priority. That can be counter to some players' preferences, yet not immediately obvious at the start of the game." Really well said, Dain Lybarger!]]>