Previously I shared some initial thoughts on The Gardens of Ynn and The Whitehack (links to both products will be at the bottom). We have finished up the two-shot and I have some more thoughts I'd like to share.
First of all--damn what a cool point-crawl! There was always something mysterious, bizarre, and strange in every room. It always felt like we were on the cusp of discovering what the heck was going on. Unfortunately, we didn't get that deep into the "levels" of the Gardens so we didn’t actually discover what was happening. I think Horst Wurst said we got around 9 levels deep out of approximately 30, so it probably would have taken quite a while longer to complete the adventure.
This session still felt very through the looking glass and haphazard; most likely because of the way the random tables were informing our fiction. We had some discussion about whether you might be able to generate a higher level of coherency if you decided to focus on your favorite elements, or perhaps even decide on a theme going in, and choose options to construct the rooms in a way that reinforced this preconceived goal. The players navigating in such a way would experience the "point" of the Gardens. This largely depends on GMing style and preference and the amount of time you have dedicated to these sessions.
For me, I approach my characters in a meta way. I like to know the themes and tone and then decide what I'd like to explore in the fiction, crafting a character that specifically explores an intersection of these things. My feedback at the end was pretty much this. I would have liked to have figured out what was going on before we ended because I prefer it when there's a "point" to a narrative or story; reoccurring themes, a theme, etc.
I'm not overly familiar with OSR products or the movement, in general. However, Horst told me that part of the the "point" of OSR is to craft your character as a reaction to the fiction and mechanics.
You go in cold, shit happens to you, and the point is that the random shit that happens is the story. You roll random, "regular" people who get entangled in wild scenarios. Sometimes you figure out who your character is based on the random things you roll; even strange gear you have as a character in some systems informs your character because there must be a story as to why you have such random items, right?
Slowly you see a storyline emerge from these unconnected details as you make sense of it with your imagination. You'd have never thought to craft such a person because it's so messy and haphazard that it'd have been near impossible to think that kind of shit up.
As you all do this and experience these things together, you remember it and talk about it with your friends later; it is memorable because it is so strange or odd. If the module landed for you or if things made sense, the “point” being made is less important because you'll be remembering the chaotic events that occurred and how your friends reacted to them.
To me, what Horst sounded like he was saying is that the point is the shit that happens along the way, not the overarching plot so much (if there is one at all). It seems like that makes thematic sense with the random table results we got and perhaps, then, never making it to the "end of the story" is fine. Personally, it would have never occured to me to run an adventure I knew we wouldn't finish, but scanning OSR materials and posts, it seems to be fairly common, actually.
I really like that take. And, looking back on those two sessions, I found myself struggling because I clearly didn't grasp this point at all. While Jason Cordova, by contrast, as well as Paul Staxx Spraget and Agatha, just rolled with it, bringing a lot of characterization, while I was tied up with trying to figure out what was going on with this place. A few questions were posed to Jason's character, Vincenzo, through dreams which had a broad theme. Jason then had to incorporate this into his description of the dream. It worked so well!! It was my favorite part of the story, in fact. I expect if you played it through to the end, this would be happening more and more, revealing some of the mysteries hidden beneath the "levels" of the Garden.
In retrospect, Horst was absolutely correct. I would have enjoyed the sessions a lot more had I been more focused on who my character was and how this place was affecting them. I was driven primarily by my desire to figure out what the heck was going on with this place and ended up missing the opportunities to flesh out my character.
Despite that, I had a fantastic time. I took a lot of joy in others' strong roleplaying and the dynamics between the party members, and it was fun for me to try to figure out what was going on in the maze as we traversed it, even if we never found the answer.
I can see the appeal of the OSR. This method of thinking does feel different than when I have played D&D and Pathfinder, and not in the way largely spoken about in my small little Twitter world and other social media. Usually, I have seen the OSR reduced to "people who want to play D&D like it used to be," and, sure, the various systems seem to boil down to that if you are being very reductive. Unfortunately, this reduction largely misses the beauty of emergent play ingrained here, something I have talked about frequently and absolutely adore in my games.
In short: I hope to play more OSR stuff. I am sure there is a large breadth of products that aren't all focused on emergent aspects of play... but there's gotta be more products digging into this and I'd like to explore it.
Horst pitied us and decided we hit a milestone when we saved one of the lads we were looking for, leveling us up! I have to say, rolling the two hit dice to get 9 HP rather than 2 HP was more empowering than I thought it would be; it felt great! Poor Jason rolled two dice and got 3 HP... but continued to Thief it up and tap those fucking statues for traps like a boss. We also increased our Saving Throw and Attack Value, continuing on. A fast procedure that got us back into the fray quickly.
After Christian Mehrstam let me know about the design intent and the point of being squishy (here), I intended to get some cool shit into the fiction; if that got killed--whatever. And so, as a monk from the Whispering Tear Monastery with my hand-carved staff, I destroyed the marble base of a statue, leaning on my "hard but not impossible" attunement to my staff that the deft class gave me. It felt awesome and led to some cool fiction, exposing a mysterious crypt filled with skeletons.
We got to see the bidding mechanics, which I think I like? One-upping each other might lead to a gonzo tone, though. I generally prefer that scenes in crypts and shit be spooky and more "serious", rather than kinda funny when people all try and grab the loot. Applying the mechanic to other situations would be really fun and neat, though. A cool way to include multiple people in a scene when others might be bored with a scene consuming a bunch of time with one player.
Looking at the system in a broad sense: I love it. I got to advocate for my character again in a different scene to get the double positive role; love that dynamic with the Referee. Narrowing on character creation specifically: I love love love love it. Because I missed the point, and kinda the spirit, of what we were up to with this point-crawl--it would have been a worse experience had we used a different system. Why?
Character creation made me come up with the coolest bits about my character, and because I was focused on unraveling the mysteries of the Gardens rather than character work, these bits were the things I could reliably fall back on. I'm from a monastery, I know martial arts, I'm attuned to my staff, and I'm a wanderer. Had I gotten the same affliction as Jason's character, with the dream stuff, I would have been able to grab onto those bits to expound on them, I'm sure. Very cool.
So as with the first session, I felt really supported and felt like my contributions to the fictions mattered. Love the scaffolding and I think it definitely implements the design goal of empowering the players and their characters in the world, shaping it in ways that make the player excited. I want to play more and get more slots, changeup and grow my Groups. Hit on the stuff I have already to try and leverage more double positive rolls.
Totally down to play more Whitehack and OSR stuff; see if I can't adjust my brain to this different mentality. Thanks so much to Horst for running and to the players; all of whom were fantastic! Hope to play some more of this kind of stuff as it has proven that I don't dislike fantasy, I dislike D&D and Pathfinder. Neat.