Nusquam Tacere

"Concerning no subject would he be deterred by the minor accident of complete ignorance from penning a definitive opinion."

- Roger Scruton

Friday, September 4

Action Castle

Location: Falls Church, VA, USA
Didn't play or see much at the Compleat Strategist last night, because I had decided on a semi-whim to buy a dinner from Flippin' Pizza, and found it to be further and slower than I anticipated.  And then I had to leave to watch the Ducks get STOMPED into Boise's blue turf.  Yeesh!

But while I was there, I did get to read and run Action Castle, the first published game with the Parsley system.

Parsley a Jared Sornenson joint, and is most easily explained if you're already familiar with Interactive Fiction/Text Adventure games, in which case all I need to say is "The GM acts as the parser for a simple game, and the players take turns entering lines of input."

If you aren't...well, the players all control one character, designed as part of the adventure, which consists of a list of locations, key items, and situations that can be passed through the correct use of those items.  The players take turns giving single commands to the GM, who claims to only understand a certain standard, simple grammar and list of nouns.  Things like:
>take shortsword
You don't see that here.
>take sword
You now have the sword.
>slay troll with sword
I don't understand the word 'slay.'
>eat troll 
You have died.  You scored 30 out of a possible 100 points.  (N)ew Game/(R)estore/(Q)uit?
You can compare the experience to a real-time MS Paint Adventure, but of course with words rather than pictures.  (Incidentally, one of the players felt compelled to draw a map and inventory, which I found very in keeping with the spirit of the exercise.)

Most of this is expected to be improvised by a GM who has a-studied his Infocom, which I haf.  Being conversant in the standards of the form, I was able to fill in the framework presented by the Adventure.

Action Castle is printed on two sides of a stiff tri-fold pamphlet. One side has the Parsley rules (basic and special commands, general GM advice), and the other has the map and basic room descriptions.  As a result, it's quite short, with no more "puzzles" than can be counted on one hand.  The next Blue Lacuna it is not.

But that's hardly the point!  The fun came in with the players (there were two) experimenting with the world, and my improvising responses to their ideas.  And it was fun, though I have some advice for my past self (and future others who might like to GM it), and one..."complaint" would be too strong of a word.

Problem first.  The players were not familiar with text-interface games, and therefore one of the cute tricks that the adventure plays on them, which I suspect would be rapidly solved by a veteran player, stymied them to the point that they quit the game and only came back with my encouragement.  I'm not sure how I feel about the placement of this "puzzle"  (if you play or read it, I suspect you'll immediately know the one I mean) in a product that sends visual signals of "Play With Your Friends!" and "Fun For All Ages!"  I attempted to fix the problem with the same kind of hints that you'd find in the best kinds of IF: when things didn't work, I tried to suggest the.  Without spoiling it (since I still recommend the game), that approach had a low chance of working.

But I'm going to go out on a limb and say that even if the players had given up and stopped playing then, the impossible methods that they were attempting to use to alternately solve the problem were very fun to narrate through.  Even when they tricked me into killing the guard.

Well, that's the first bit of advice: the first virtue of a parser is to be consistent.  I did this well when, after I had established that the cottage had a thatched roof, and the strange candle's flame gave off heat, and the roof could be lit on fire and eventually bun down, and the unconscious guard could be dragged or pushed to different locations, that...well, you can probably already guess what happened.  Let's pull a veil on that horror, except to say that I had already prevented them from dropping him off the bridge, and I realized later that I shouldn't have bothered.

But I did fail to do it right when I first said that the candle was unlit, and even said  You don't see that here when the players said >light candle with fire, but then I forgot!  I talked about it as if it was lit! Gah!  So don't do that.

A good idea that I forgot at one point was to keep descriptions simple, as you may have to repeat them.  I trapped myself with my excitement of describing the thatch catching fire, and produced a loving description of the fire catching which I found I did not wish to repeat or remember every fricking time the players reloaded and tried again.  Ditto on asking the princess questions.

Either way, I'd definitely run it again, and making adventures for the system is remarkably simple.



gunthersc said...

Did you make people do the "torch hands"?

Nick Novitski said...

Why, no. Perhaps my reading was not close enough, and I missed that part. What does it entail?

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