Threadbare RPG

Conclave of Dolls

Conclave of Dolls

An Adventure for Stephanie Bryant’s Threadbare

Adventure written by Richard Kelly

With playtesting thanks to Ian, Joe, Larissa, Nirav, and Zuger

Adventure Background

In the ancient Tumbledowns, where ramshackle towers of plastic brick jut from rolling hills of trackless felt, a population of Toys has lived for longer than any of them can remember. Though they might sometimes have their issues, they have grown to be good friends with one another. They fix each other’s tears and play endless games of tag and pool their scant collection of Things to build small fortresses under the never-setting sun.

The fortresses always fall down, but that is the way of things in the Tumbledowns.

Nothing built by the hands of Toys ever lasts.

Sometimes, from the neighboring provinces, traders come. The Tumbledowners exchange broad rolls of tilled felt for needles, scissors, and other less definable Stuff. Often these meetings are brought to a close with a dance party or with a solemn, respectful game of pattycake honoring the traders’ journey and the culture of their homes.

Lately, there has been very little trade.

The last caravan, a pair of bedraggled robot Mekka pulling a popsicle-stick cart, spent their entire visit looking over their shoulders. They conducted their business quickly, hardly bothering to haggle or to play, and left at speed.

Time is difficult to measure on the Tumbledowns, but by anyone’s best guess this was weeks ago. There has been no contact with the outside world since and the Tumbledowners have begun to grow worried. The ‘Downs is not a self-sufficient community. Without trade, everyone who lives there will eventually fall apart.

Working together, the community has pooled the last of its resources to build a vehicle. It is big enough to hold only a few Toys – just enough for a delegation to the neighboring provinces.

If the delegation succeeds, the ‘Downs can go back to being an isolated utopia, with Toys idling away their time under the unblinking sun.

If it fails, civilization on the ‘Downs will fail with it, crumbling like any of the hundreds of broken towers that dot the hills.

Notes For the GM

Conclave of Dolls is designed with a few specific notions in mind.

The first is that the most challenging conflict is social conflict.

The second is that there can be threat and urgency in an adventure, even when the tone is Fluffy and no one can really die.

The third is that the Toys from the Tumbledowns do not have a clear sense of how day and night works, the lunar cycle, or the passing of seasons.

More than a day passes every time they travel between provinces.

It may be a long time indeed before they return home.

If, in the end, they even have a home to return to.

Let’s Talk About Entropy

Because the stakes for this adventure are as much about the fate of the Tumbledowns as they are about that of the players, Conclave invites GM to track a group’s Entropy.

Entropy is a score specific to this adventure that represents how much ambient chaos and ill-feeling there is in the ‘Downs. It starts at zero and goes all the way up to twelve.

At twelve out of twelve Entropy, even if the players succeed, when they return home, they find that they will have to build things back up from scratch – assuming they even decide to make the effort. Twelve out of twelve Entropy means a village in shambles, its people scattered – and perhaps even worse if the tone is Dented.

Entropy should be tracked out in the open where players can see it. GMs are invited to stand up and make very visible tallies on a whiteboard, or take tokens from a pile, or slowly shade a progress bar on a piece of paper in front of them.

A point of Entropy is gained any time one of the following happens:

  • Fight Song is used to resolve a conflict before the Conclave is convened.

  • Every other time a Part on one of the PCs or a Part on the Ride is repaired.

  • Every time a Part on one of the PCs or a Part on the Ride is upgraded.

  • As a result of choices during the gathering in Scene Five.

Luckily, the players do have a way to stave off the slow encroachment of Entropy. Each time they convince a settlement to go to the Conclave, gain 1 Hold. The next time the players would gain Entropy, spend that Hold and cancel the Entropy gain.

If all of this sounds too intimidating for the group, the GM has absolute permission to raise the Entropy ceiling or to do away with Entropy entirely.

Opening Questions

Before the adventure begins, the Players get a chance to define a few basic facts about the world. The GM should call on the players one-by-one in a clockwise circle and ask each player to answer one of the questions below.

If there are more questions than players, continue in the circle until each question has been answered. If there are more players than questions, each player gets a choice before their question is asked: receive a free Thing that they can immediately define, or answer a question. Once all the questions are taken, the remaining players automatically receive Things. On the other hand, if enough players pick a Thing that everyone who is left can safely take a question, everyone left must take a question.

  • What is the name of your village? Can you describe one local custom?

  • Someone in your village is in dire straits and needs something urgently from the outside world. Who are they? What do they need?

  • There is something your village has always wanted from the outside world. What is it? What would they do with it if they had it?

  • Your village has heard stories about Something Fearsome from beyond the ‘Downs. What is it? What is the only way that it can be stopped?

  • Your village knows that there is a place where other Toys gather a few days’ ride away. What is it like? What is it called?

The Ride

The Toys on the Tumbledowns have all come together to build it. Going clockwise, the GM should ask each player to answer a question about the Ride, name one of its four Parts, or to assign one of its stats. Continue until all questions are answered, all Parts are named, and all stats are allocated.

Is the Ride…

  • A single massive structure

  • A jumbled flotilla of vehicles

  • Sleek and unique, but a little too small for the party

Does the Ride…

  • Run using its own limbs

  • Fly in short, erratic bursts

  • Turn an impressive array of wheels, some of which are even in contact with the ground

Is the Ride powered by…

  • A hopper full of Stuff

  • Earnest and heartfelt hugs

  • The determination of its riders

When the Ride breaks, it…

  • Collapses exhausted on the ground and breathes heavily

  • Snarls in a diesel voice at anyone who approaches it

  • Dissolves into a pile of Parts, away from which rolls a single tire

Now, assign the following scores +1, 0, -1 to the following stats: Maneuverability (MAN), Durability (DUR), Visibility (VIS), and name four Parts that the Ride has.

Finally, remember that your Ride has the following Moves:

When you try to travel between locations without incident, roll+VIS. On a 7-9, you succeed in getting there, but you still encounter one incident on the way. On 6-, you encounter an incident and get lost. GMs should consult the Table of Incidents for possible incidents.

When you try to avoid trouble, roll+MAN. On a 7-9, you succeed but something new has climbed aboard or become part of your Ride. On a 6-, you either steer right into it or away from it and into something worse.

When the Ride takes an impact, roll+DUR. On a 7-9, everyone inside the Ride falls down and one of them damages a Part! On a 6-, your Ride damages a Part.

Scene One – Objects In Motion

The game begins as the party arrives at the gathering place (the one defined in the Opening Questions! If you skimmed over that, call it Mootmont). Their Ride judders to a stop and they pour out.

Read to the players the following text:

You have come to the meeting place, but it appears deserted. Telltale signs of habitation still litter the area, suggesting that there were other Toys here once, but that they have since packed up and gone away. From up ahead, faint sounds are coming from inside a small structure. They might be voices. What do you do?

The voices belong to the only two remaining Toys in the gathering place. If the players do not investigate, they grow louder and more heated.

Lord Bricklesworth is a castle made of plastic bricks. He has two googly plastic eyes hot-glued to his front and a popsicle-stick moat that flaps when he talks. He is very stuffy, filling his speech with “thee”s and “thou”s, and he is quite upset that the three other provinces have withdrawn their representatives from the gathering place. He and his steward, Dalmatian, have been hiding out here in hopes that they might return. Bricklesworth is certain that they will come back, and he has been expecting them any day now for months.

Dalmatian is more patches than sock. He is polite but risk-averse and he speaks quietly to be sure that no passing Takers will hear him. He often reprimands Bricklesworth for his bluster, even though Bricklesworth is technically his superior. Dalmatian does not think the representatives from the other provinces are coming back.

Conversation with these two toys will reveal the names and locations of Toy settlements in the three surrounding provinces, as well as the root of the problem: the Conclave of Dolls, which was responsible for fairly adjudicating the laws of trade and travel between the lands, has broken apart. Sick of feeling like they were not getting their individual ways, the delegation from each province packed up and went home.

Without the Conclave to assign patrols and mediate disputes, the roads are unsafe. Some Toys, called Takers, have turned to roaming the wilderness in bands, simply grabbing whatever they want from others.

There have also been reported sightings of strange creatures in once-civilized areas.

Both Dalmatian and Lord Bricklesworth will implore that the PCs intervene. If the PCs can convince each province to send a delegation back to the gathering place, everything can surely be worked out with a Conclave.

Dalmatian and Bricklesworth will give the PCs a quick primer on what to expect from the other provinces.

  • The diplomats from the Bastille of Maple left because they were sick of Toys from other provinces telling them what to do. Maple already has its cotton mines, giant whetstones, and its heirloom needles. It wants for nothing. Why should it even mingle with the outside world?

  • The diplomats from Amanda left because the other Toys were too serious. The other Toys would only play games when they wanted to. When the diplomats tried to ask why this was, the others ignored them. And that was not how Toys were supposed to play diplomacy! How were the diplomats supposed to trust the other Provinces not to break the rules on them again?

  • The diplomats from Silk Hollow left because they did not see a point in staying when none of the other Toys could get along. It was tearing them apart, watching the other Toys bicker and disagree in meeting after meeting. While it broke their hearts to withdraw, the Hollowers were convinced that the other provinces would see the error of their ways and send a messenger with an apology.

The PCs may do the next three Scenes (2, 3, 4) in any order they choose.

Scene Two – High Lonesome

The Bastille of Maple sits atop the highest peak in the Jumblecrags, a mountain range composed entirely of massive wooden blocks. Its silhouette is visible from the ‘Downs, imposing despite the distance, and it becomes no less forbidding when seen up close. To reach the Bastille, Toys must climb up the perilous side of the mountain, following a difficult path with few markers and even fewer safe places to rest.

This difficult climb is just the way the Toys in the Bastille like it. They have never encountered the Takers, nor have they had to speak with any Toys from outside that they did not want to. They are perfectly self-sufficient.

However, a few of them have also begun to grow a bit bored. No contact with the outside world means no new games, and games are sometimes worth the price of being told what they are allowed do.

Monarch Butterfly is the Softie king of the Bastille. Despite being king, their pronoun is they. They have bright cloth wings and curlicue pipe-cleaner antennae and they play checkers with a ferocious intensity that is daunting to behold. That said, they are exceptionally bad at the game and they play mostly against themselves.

Hector Malone is Monarch’s Mekka viceroy. He is a hard plastic doll that was originally packaged with fatigues, a camouflage jacket, and a rifle. The jacket has long since been torn beyond mending and the rifle has been lost, but the fatigues are in moderate shape. Hector is a pragmatist and he sees withdrawing from the Conclave as the safest thing to do in the long run – although he regrets the loss of contact with the other provinces.

When the PCs arrive in this scene, they are at the base of the Jumblecrags. Their first challenge is to find a way up the mountains. Their second is to find a way into the Bastille, which is sealed to the outside but for a few thin windows. Once they have done that, the Bastillians must be somehow convinced to send a delegation back to the meeting place. They may be swayed by logic, a Fight Song, or a game of checkers (played in-game or out!) against the Monarch — who tries to introduce new rules as the tide of the game turns against him.

Once the PCs have secured this small concession from the Bastille, they are free to visit the other provinces.

If they have already completed Scenes Three and Four, they may proceed directly to the meeting place for Scene Five and the Conclave.

Scene Three – Undercurrents

Amanda is the only city in the Bead Marsh. It rests on a series of gigantic couch cushions that float across the polyethylene surface of the mire. In this marsh, the further one dives, the bigger the beads that are found. Some of the lowest layers have beads the size of entire Toys.

They also have Toys, who have become trapped in the mire.

Amanda is, according to its citizens, an old word for “a lot of boats in one place.” Many of its citizens are aquatic Mekka – boats and seaplanes and scuba divers. Others are Softies and Socks so vast that their distributed weight keeps them afloat. Still others live entirely on the couch cushions, hitching rides to the shore should they ever decide to leave.

Lately, no one has been leaving Amanda.

The atmosphere on the floating city is one of constant merriment. The Toys here love to play and are endlessly inventive in their games, but they do not always understand that another Toy might be too busy to join in or simply not interested in the game that they are playing. Visitors wandering the cloth streets of Amanda routinely find themselves stepping onto a hopscotch board or receiving a tag from a sprinting passerby – and then being expected to complete the game. Very little apart from game design and game-play gets done in Amanda and some of the Toys are beginning to look the worse for wear because of it. Buttons have fallen off, stitches have been allowed to rip, and no one seems to have noticed.

Rudy Chiques is a Softie spokestoy for Amanda and she has not decided yet which pronoun he likes the most. She thinks both he and she suit himself. She is very calm and rational, especially compared with the riotous crowds of his home, and she tends to think about matters very deliberately. He is the author of many of the games that the Amandans play and her creations are adapted and modified endlessly across the small floating city. Rudy is not convinced that withdrawing from the Conclave was for the best, but he had to spend so much of her time back before the meeting area was abandoned teaching his games to outsiders that now she is enjoying the peace and quiet of life in the floating city.

Disaster Marigold is a Sock bedecked in yellow pins and sheathed in bright sequins. She is the foremost game player on Amanda and is the least-tagged Toy in the city. Disaster finds outsiders boring. Either they don’t want to play her games or they’re not good at them or they try to get her to focus on some topic other than winning. Can’t they see how important winning is to her?

When the PCs arrive in the Bead Marsh, their first challenge is getting across the treacherous mire to Amanda. From there, they must convince the Amandan Toys to send a delegation to the meeting area. This may be done through cleverness, a Fight Song, or by means of a very special third option. If the players create a game that no one on Amanda has heard of, the local Toys will agree to their request in return for the rules to the game.

Once the PCs have secured this small concession, they are free to visit the other provinces.

If they have already completed Scenes Two and Four, they may proceed directly to the meeting place for Scene Five and the Conclave.

Scene Four – Soft and Sleek

The Blanket Catacombs are a vast and unmapped area made up of tunnels of fabric that worm their ways deep underground. Even the citizens of Silk Hollow have not been able to explore them all, and sometimes rumors circulate of other towns, lost for centuries in the deep.

Silk Hollow is a vast fabric cavern just off of one of the main tunnel lines. It is home to some of the most accomplished artist-surgeons in any of the three provinces. Many Hollowers are heavily modified and feel that their bodies and personalities are a choice. Thanks to their fellows’ skill with needle, thread, and hot glue, they are objectively right.

Toys in Silk Hollow do not like conflict. Their disagreements are brief and, if they cannot find an immediate resolution, are often immediately forgotten by the Toys involved. Outsiders make the Hollowers uneasy – as outsiders often bring conflict – but the Hollowers are too warm-hearted to turn other Toys away. Takers occasionally visit this settlement, but never to raid. The Hollowers repair them, with sad looks in their button eyes, and then send them back on their way.

Recently, Silk Hollow’s supplies of blades and needles have been dulled. Without proper whetstones, the Hollowers have been forced to look for replacements instead of restoring their tools to proper edge.

Mayfair is a scary-looking poseable figurine of a werewolf – although the pink bonnet and floral dress do tone down the fearsomeness a bit. He is the quickest hand with a needle in the Hollow. He is also the most brusque conversational partner. He sometimes has trouble interpreting how other Toys might feel on a subject and so he keeps most of his opinions to himself. Mayfair is certain that the other provinces will send someone to Silk Hollow should they need surgeons.

Judy Punch is a giant carnival Softie with big boxing gloves. She loves sparring, but would never dare risk hurting another Toy. Mostly she shadowboxes. Privately, Judy worries over how the other provinces are doing, but she does not want to impose on them if they do not want to be looked after.

When the PCs arrive in the Blanket Catacombs, their first challenge is navigating the tunnels. When they reach the Hollow, they must convince the Toys there to send a delegation to the meeting area. This can be done through sympathy and understanding, a Fight Song, or through creativity. If the players build a prototype Toy at the table, or if the PCs come up with a particularly impressive mod, this impresses the Hollowers and convinces them that the delegation is worth the risk.

Once the PCs have secured this small concession, they are free to visit the other provinces.

If they have already completed Scenes Two and Three, they may proceed directly to the meeting place for Scene Five and the Conclave.

Scene Five – The Conclave

The delegations from Maple Bastille, Amanda, and the Silk Hollow have arrived at the meeting place. These consist of the two named NPCs for each province, as well as a few supporting toys. None of them look especially thrilled to be here. Lord Bricklesworth calls them to attention as soon as the PCs arrive. He quickly explains the rules of the Conclave.

  • Any party may back out at any time, but they must explain why they are doing so and they must give the others a chance to make right whatever they found wrong.

  • Any party may propose a measure that they would like to see implemented. If the other two parties ratify it, it is passed and all three parties must abide by it.

  • The Conclave is only done when all three parties agree it is. It may be convened again by any party at any time.

Upon hearing this, the Amanda delegation will immediately propose that the other Toys in the other provinces must try out each new game that they produce, so as to be more fun to talk to when they meet.

Bastille and the Hollow will instantly vote this down and the Amanda delegation will threaten to leave.

Dalmatian will ask them for their reasoning, and the Amandans will explain that they knew they were just going to be ignored and that the other Toys only want to propose boring stuff and listen to themselves talk about things that aren’t games. They never should have bothered to come here.

Heads swivel as the assembled parties look to the PCs for guidance.

This same basic scenario happens six times over the course of the Conclave. One province will make an unreasonable claim, the others will shoot it down, and the PCs will be called on to mediate. Other possible issues include:

  • The Silk Hollow delegation proposes that no party should be able to refuse to ratify a measure. Everyone should always be able to get what they want, even if no one else wants it.

  • The Bastille of Maple delegation proposes that the other provinces should send messengers to the Bastille, asking for their opinion on all new measures. After all, if the Bastillions do not like a measure, it is not going to be voted in. Why bother consulting the other provinces at all?

  • The Amanda delegation proposes that the rules of the Conclave are too simple. Each delegate should bring a character sheet and stats to make things more interesting. No one in the Amanda delegation can clearly explain what a character sheet is or what stats are, just that they would make things better.

  • The Silk Hollow delegation proposes that all Toys with damaged Parts must go directly to Silk Hollow for repair. After all, many Toys do not take good care of themselves. They patch and sew only when they remember to, which is sometimes long after the stuffing has started to come out.

  • The Bastille of Maple delegation proposes a respectful silence before every Bastillion delegate speaks. The silence must be five minutes long at the very least.

Each time a question is answered, the GM should consider how the representatives of the three settlements feel about the PCs’ proposed solution to their problem. If it makes the delegation that suggested the measure feel unhappy or disrespected, 1 Entropy point is added to the counter. If the solution makes the other provinces feel unhappy or disrespected, 1 Entropy point is added. If, instead of talking respectfully, the players use Fight Song or threats to resolve the issue, 2 Entropy points are added.

The GM is encouraged to not be overly difficult here, especially if the Toys are being clever. If a player has a great idea that makes everyone happy, don’t force it to a roll. Resolve the issue and move on to the next. On the other hand, if a delegation tries to back out and the players say “go ahead”, make that a Look Fierce! Move and, on a 6-, add 1 Entropy as the delegation decides to stay in a way that complicates things further (they have additional demands, they are now more hostile, etc). On a 7 – 9 they fall silent and one of the other two factions takes up their case instead.

If the Conclave comes to a successful close, the GM should tally up the Entropy points that have been accumulated and move on to the Resolution.

If the Conclave dissolves into anger and name-calling instead, give the PCs one last chance to make an impassioned speech convincing the provinces to work together. Add 2 Entropy points, but allow the delegations to be persuaded, then move on to the Resolution.

Optional Tweak: Running Scene Five For Children

If this adventure is being run for young children, the rules of the Conclave can be tweaked a bit.

  • No pushing and shoving. No shouting over one another.

  • Everyone must agree on a rule before it’s a rule.

  • Every Conclave ends with a dance party.

The issues that the Toys fight over are a little different too.

  • Amanda wants the other Toys to play I Spy, a game the other Toys find boring.

  • Silk Hollow proposes that everyone should just agree. All of the time.

  • The Bastille of Maple proposes that every Toy should bow when they see someone from the Bastille.

  • Amanda insists that the other Toys in the Conclave need to try digging a big mine shaft together, that it is the most fun that anyone can have, but does not explain it in a way that sounds like fun.

  • Silk Hollow wants other Toys to stop playing games the moment they get hurt, even if they feel fine and want to keep playing.

  • The Bastille of Maple Toys want Toys who speak with them to start every sentence with a complement.

Resolution

When the Conclave is done, Toys return to guarding the roads, trade is restored, and the PCs can return home.

If they were able to keep their Entropy points under twelve, the village is still in good shape and everyone throws a big festival welcoming the PCs back.

If Entropy went to twelve or over, the village and its Toys have fallen apart. Depending on the tone level, they might just need some patching up and good cheer. Or they might be entirely beyond help.

In a Fluffy toned game, Toys from Silk Hollow will show up almost immediately to put them back together. Toys from Amanda will entertain everyone who’s being sewn up while Toys from the Bastille of Maple will help build the village back up from scratch.

In a Scruffy toned game, the Toys from the village can still be saved (assuming they have not been dragged off by Takers or predators), but while being repaired they forget how much they loved their village. Eventually, they wander off. In the end, the PCs are the only Toys left.

In a Dented toned game, any number of horrible possibilities might have come to pass. Desperate to conserve limited supplies, one Toy might have stitched himself up with the parts of all of his neighbors – leaving the village surviving, after a fashion. Alternately, Takers might have hit the settlement and dragged the other Toys off to harvest for their Parts. Or worse yet, the village Toys might have turned in desperation to using sub-par materials to repair themselves. They may have forgotten their identities entirely, turning feral under the never-setting sun.

Most likely, though, the PCs did just fine in managing their Entropy. They have come home to a warm reception, velvet hugs, and the certainty that they are heroes.

Table of Incidents

Overland travel is not without its risks. When the players’ Ride fails a Visibility roll, an incident occurs. No incident is objectively bad, but all of them are complications. If the GM wishes, she may substitute an incident with a GM Move.

  • A small, rag-tag group of Takers appear in the near distance. These are bandit Toys. Without the Conclave to police the roads or set down the laws of Fair Play, they see no reason not to help themselves to whatever they want. The Takers are not unrepentant, as they are new to this life and it is a little bit scary for them, but other Toys are being mean too. They do not want to be victims, and so they do this.

  • A wild Burlap Leviathan churns through the sky overhead. Its button-eyed gaze turns briefly on the PCs below and it swoops down to investigate.

  • The PCs find themselves in a bead pond and notice the googly eyes of a dozen Sockodiles moving closer from beneath the plastic-bit waters.

  • A distant Toynado has picked up and thrown thousands of hard plastic wafers into the air. They are now raining down around the PCs.

  • A glitterstorm sweeps the terrain, cutting visibility to a few dazzling inches.

  • The Something Fearsome that the players defined in their Opening Questions appears, menacing the party.

  • A Blanket Geist prowls the area, looking for Toys to enfold.

  • A brickquake shakes the scenery, dislodging plastic cubes from piles and towers which had previously been looming over the PCs.

  • An Amandan and a Bastillian are locked in an argument. The Bastillian says that it is pointless to play a game when you know that you are going to lose. The Amandan insists that he is wrong. They turn to the PCs for an objective answer.

  • A Bastillian and a Hollower are trying to navigate a dangerous section of bead swamp. The Bastillian insists that she can find a way across. The Hollower will not let her, insisting that they need to go around. Unbeknownst to either of them, a Ribbon Kraken waits in the mire and Takers have set snares around the sides, hoping to catch it – or else any Toys that might blunder through them.

  • A Hollower and an Amandan are upgrading a part. The Amandan wants spring legs, which the Hollower is happy to give her, but the spring legs quickly go out of control, making the Amandan a danger to the Hollower and to passers-by.

  • The PCs find a large plush pig, new-in-box, still in its original casing. It cannot speak, but it stares at them with soulful eyes.

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