by Jason Cordova
As of this writing, I have run 17 games of Trophy, Jesse Ross’s game of dark fantasy and psychological horror. The purpose of these blog posts is to share the lessons I have learned so you can improve your own experience with the game (and possibly your experience with roleplaying games in general).
Links to the other entries in this series:
9 Tips for Running Trophy
Trophy: Notes on Ring 1
Trophy: What's the Point of All These Tables?
Trophy: Notes on Ring 2
You can learn more about Trophy by clicking the image.
Before I begin talking about Ring 3, I want to let you know that The Gauntlet is now producing an actual play podcast for Trophy. The first series is a play-through of The Flocculent Cathedral incursion, featuring myself, Fraser Simons, Bethany Harvey, and Lowell Francis. If you have been following this blog post series, I strongly recommend taking a listen to this podcast. The production values are very high, and each episode is a manageable 30-40 minutes long. Importantly, each episode is a different ring of the incursion, and you get a really good sense for how to run and play this game. You can find the series right here.
Now let’s talk about Ring 3 of the incursion. These notes are not presented in any particular order, nor are they meant to be “authoritative.” They are simply my observations from running the game.
The calm before (and after) the storm
Ring 3 is situated just after the hard environmental challenges of Ring 2 and just before the monstrous terrors of Ring 4. It is a bit of a decompression phase, a chance to breathe, and you should treat it as such. This isn’t to say it’s a “slow” or less dramatic part of the game (in fact, it can be the most intense ring, emotionally-speaking) but it is a time for the treasure-hunters to take stock. Have you had any scenes at camp yet? If not, Ring 3 is a great opportunity to do so. Did something particularly intense happen between two characters in a previous ring? If so, frame a scene in Ring 3 so they discuss it.
Focus on the personal
Minimize environmental dangers, minimize direct attacks from the forest, and emphasize personal matters. The danger and drama of Ring 3 comes from seeing how people in an extreme situation cope with each other and themselves. Even when you have no choice but to pose external threats in Ring 3 (perhaps because of a Devil’s Bargain), you should ask the players questions about how that external threat affects their treasure-hunter personally. A very loaded and leading question will usually get the job done. An example:
The treasure-hunters are facing down a wild cat in Ring 3 as the result of a Devil’s Bargain. One of the treasure-hunters has a drive related to impressing his disapproving father. Before a risk roll takes place, the GM asks the treasure-hunter how this wild cat reminds him of a hunt he was on with his father—a hunt that went poorly and caused his father to upbraid him.
Don’t forget conditions!
As the GM, you should always be asking the treasure-hunters questions, and in Ring 3, those questions should focus on the personal and interpersonal. How did it make you feel when Kasien lost the map? Why is this mission worth enduring this misery? What does Orlen do at camp that drives you crazy? Importantly, don’t forget to ask about conditions. In practice, because you’re so focused on environmental dangers and the characters’ drives, it can be very easy to forget that one of the treasure-hunters is now behaving in a very strange way, or has some kind of strange physical affliction. Ring 3 is an excellent opportunity to remind the players of these strange things, and you can do so by asking them a question as simple as “How does it make you feel?” And, of course, if the situation warrants it—say, because a fellow treasure-hunter’s condition is particularly disturbing—invoke ruin rolls.
Sow the seeds of betrayal
The seeds of betrayal that are planted in Ring 3 should, theoretically, bear fruit by Ring 5. Terrors in Ring 3 are almost always about how the treasure-hunters begin to mistrust one another. If you are following the text of the incursion closely, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting the treasure-hunters to turn on one another, even if it’s just in small ways for now.
The reduction roll also has a major part to play here. I almost always have a treasure-hunter hit Ruin 5 somewhere in Ring 3. The first time this happens, you should take a minute to remind the players of the consequences of hitting Ruin 6 and then explain how the reduction roll works. Then, you should very explicitly ask the player of the treasure-hunter at Ruin 5 if they would like to have a scene in order to trigger a reduction roll. They will almost always take you up on this (much to the chagrin of the other players) and, before you know it, treachery and villainy abound.