Here, at long last, is the post where I try to talk about The Mountain of the Sorcerer-King, the Mountain Witch game I ran at this year’s TBR.
I’ll start off by saying that in the future I don’t see myself planning to run a game using a system that hasn’t been released yet. Tim was great and he gave me a bunch of help, including an update to the version of the playtest rules I had and a bunch of advice about running the game, but I still don’t think I was as prepared as I might have been if I was using a system that had already come out. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m glad that Tim is taking the time to get his game right before he releases it. I just probably shouldn’t have committed to using The Mountain Witch before it was actually completed.
On the bright side, the players mostly seemed to be having quite a good time, and there were definitely moments of inspired play. They didn’t hesitate to expend Trust points, and were therefore able to prevail rather handily in most of the battles against the Sorcerer-King’s minions. One of the players commented that he thought some of the opponents should have been tougher to defeat (specifically suggesting that they should get either a bonus to their die or get to roll more than one die), but I think much of their success came from the combination of their not being afraid to spend Trust and my not managing their Trust points as well as I should have (by making them expend more points). The final scene ended up being quite bloody, and I think most (if not all) of that blood was due to PC-on-PC violence, as a couple of Fates came to a head. It isn’t that it was a bad session, overall, it just could have been better.
There were problems though. The first of these arose during the part of the session where I did my best to explain the rules and guide everyone through character creation. Since I’d never actually run (or played in) a game of The Mountain Witch before, I didn’t have as firm a grasp of the rules as I would have liked, and this made it harder for me to explain them to the players (most of whom hadn’t had a chance to read the rules at all). The fact that this was a slot of limited length at a con meant that I also felt some pressure to get the game going, and so I probably rushed things more than I should have. For the most part this wasn’t a big problem, as the game is reasonably simple and I was able to fill in gaps in rules knowledge as we went along, but I think that if I’d been able to explain things more clearly, it might have avoided some of the rough spots that occurred during play.
One specific thing that I think wasn’t explained as well as it might have been was how to come up with strong Fates that would work to help build tension in the game and that could be foreshadowed during play. Part of the problem there was that, since I’d never played The Mountain Witch, I wasn’t sure myself what would and wouldn’t make a good Fate. That made it tough for me to give guidance to the players on what is, in my opinion the single most important aspect of the game.
We stumbled some during the play due to the relative inexperience of both the GM and most of the players with using a conflict resolution system. For my part, I’d read plenty of discussion on The Forge (and elsewhere) about conflict resolution, but that’s not really a substitute for the experience of having run a game that used it. Some of the players were in a similar situation, but a couple of them were being introduced to the concept for the first time.
There was also a serious issue with the amount of time we had to get through the game. I was running in a six hour slot (including a brief break for lunch), and with the need to explain the rules and create characters, that wasn’t enough time to do what I think would be considered a proper game of The Mountain Witch. Tim had already advised me that I was going to have to push to bring things to a conclusion in the amount of time I had, as the final rules recommend 8-12 hours for a full game. In the end, I ran well past the end of the slot in order to get the PCs through their confrontation with the Sorcerer-King (my version of the Mountain Witch), and I still don’t think the players had enough time to truly develop their Fates. If we had been an experienced group of MW players (with an experienced GM), we might have pulled the whole thing off in the time we had. Maybe.
There’s some possibility that I’m going to give this another shot at ACUS 2006 next March, and I’m thinking that it might go better on the second try. I’ll have time to better assimilate the system, which will have long since been released, and that should help both my running of the game and my teaching of the rules. I’ll also plan to do pre-generated characters with clear, powerful Fates that are designed to play off of each other. I’m going to have to mull things over before I make a commitment, but I think The Mountain Witch is a great game with lots of potential, and I’d like to take another shot at running it.