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other lumpley games / [IAWA] AP Session
« on: June 25, 2015, 05:25:48 AM »
As I mentioned in another thread, we recently started an In A Wicked Age game, deciding to cleave closely to the "sword & sorcery" genre by setting the game in R. E. Howard's "Hyborian Age" (in which the myriad Conan stories are set). It has already proved both awesome and hilarious, and the players have jumped into it with both feet. In our most recent session (which actually turned out to be a "prequel" to the first session), the oracle "God Kings of War" was chosen. The elements included were:

2D - A cask of honey wine, tribute to a fierce bandit-queen.
8D - An order of magician-monks who punish blasphemers.
9D - A much-decorated company of the enemy’s light cavalry.
JD - A vengeful and jealous god, displeased by the lapses of his followers, however scrupulously they observe.

Once again taking place in Stygia, the characters included:

Sorcha, the Cimmerian "bandit queen," who had recently taken over a settlement on the Stygian coast. Her best interests are to extend her control to new lands and plunder the riches of Stygia's palaces and temples.

Arroch, the Aquilonian mercenary, commander of Sorcha's fearsome cavalry scouts. His best interests are to seduce Sorcha, then to supplant Sorcha. Arroch is an NPC.

Teru, a Stygian magician-monk of Set, sent to the contested lands to return them to the faith. His best interests are to kill Sorcha and restore the worship of Set to the region.

Sekharoth, fellow monk and compatriot of Teru. It is in his best interest to make and example out of Sorcha and undermine Teru (i.e. take the credit for Sorcha's downfall). Sekharoth is an NPC.

And finally the jealous and vengeful god Set, who seeks to return the land to his worship by corrupting Sorcha to be his tool. Hilariously, the god is a player-character, whose far-reaching special strength turns out to be "possession."

I was so inspired by the players' characterizations and how the session unfolded that I decided to pay homage to the source material in another way - pulp fiction! What follows is an account of the story. So, without further ado, I give you:

Whispers of the Serpent God

Chroniclers on the Road
It was late afternoon. The Stygian sun shone down cruelly on the parched landscape, heat shimmers giving the tantalizing illusion of water where there was none. In the distance, distorted shapes could be seen, other travelers ahead on the road. At least that is what Teru hoped - now that Sorcha, the self-styled "Bandit Queen" had forcibly carved her principality out of this land, the roads were no longer safe. As yet another territory at the fringes of Stygian control was lost to the King of Luxor, yet another pack of jackals tearing a piece from the ancient and once-mighty empire.

A young magician-monk of Set, Teru and his traveling companion Sekharoth had come to this frontier land on a mission; return the land to the faith. An outlander barbarian, Sorcha had torn down the temples of Set, and it was said that just in the short time that she had held sway over the lands surrounding the port town of Gurbekhan, obeisance to other gods had become commonplace. This blasphemy could not be allowed to continue. It must be punished, and Sorcha must be destroyed. An example would be made of her, and her downfall would serve as a warning to any who thought to defy the power of Set.

To that end, Teru and Sekharoth made their way along this hot, dusty track to Gurbekhan. For weeks they had prepared for this endeavor, both men eschewing the clean-shaven skulls of their order. The stubble on Teru's head now looked less like priestly grooming and more like a sensible concession to the heat. Sekharoth had taken the extreme step of cultivating a goatee, a look which gave his large, imposing frame a brooding quality. Teru could not help but feel the import of their task, that the very eyes of Set were upon him and his companion. He could not have suspected just how close to the mark his feeling was...

As the incognito monks made their way along the road, they were eventually able to distinguish the form of a wagon, flanked by four riders. As the afternoon wore on, they drew closer, gaining ground against the slow-moving wagon. Eventually, one of the riders peeled off and approached them. As he drew closer, Teru was able to discern that he was a slender, flint-eyed man, bow-legged from a lifetime spent in the saddle. Though deeply tanned, the  Aquilonian cast to his features marked him as one of Sorcha's outlanders, a sell-sword adventurer serving the Bandit Queen in exchange for fame and booty. With a curved saber at his hip gleaming in the harsh sunlight, the rider reined up his mount sharply before the Stygians, his demand terse; "What is your business on this road?"

Teru gave voice to the carefully-contrived cover story to which he and Sekharoth had agreed before they set out; "My lord, we are chroniclers, keepers of the history of this land. Word has spread that a new chapter is to be written. We are come to bear witness to the words and deeds of the new queen."

The rider gave a sharp, humorless laugh. "Is that so? Well, then there is much work for you to do. But it is not just the deeds of Sorcha to which you must bear witness. Mark me well, for I am Arroch, commander of her majesty's vanguard, and it has been my riders who have conquered much of this land in her name."

"So shall it be written, Lord Arroch," Teru said without pause.

The rider eyed the Stygians - apart from the curved daggers any sensible man carried in this land, the two 'chroniclers' were unarmed, though he suspected the big one knew how to handle his walking stick. Still, they looked mostly harmless, and Arroch said as much. "Come, it is an hour yet to Gurbekhan and I will regale you with tales of our daring exploits to pass the otherwise tedious time."

"Just so, my lord." Teru smiled a toothy grin that did not reach his eyes, but Arroch took no notice, instead turning to signal his compatriots still accompanying the wagon.

As the men approached the conveyance, now pausing to wait for them, Teru and Sekharoth could see it held an enormous tun. As the wagon set off again, the two emaciated oxen struggled under its weight. Finding a brief pause in Arroch's constant, self-aggrandizing prattle, Teru shot in an inquiry; "And what is this wagon, so valuable that it requires an escort of such obvious importance?" From the buckboard the portly, one-eyed drover tersely spat a reply, "Honeyed wine, tribute to the new queen."

Arroch picked up seamlessly. "Just so. The people of the hinterland have seen fit to honor their new mistress, who has freed them from their Stygian bondage." The drover looked askance at the horseman, but wisely kept his mouth shut. Unaware, Arroch continued, "This, the fruit of their labors, is bound for the queen's own table."

Teru and Sekharoth exchanged a quick conspiratorial glance.

Procuring Poison
It was late evening by the time the little group reached the walls of Gurbekhan. They posted up at a wayhouse where Jamal the carter could water his oxen, clean himself up, and change into what little finery he had before delivering his tribute to the new queen. Teru and Sekharoth obtained a room, but not before Arroch promised to return. "Sharpen your quills, boys, I have more tales to tell! I am off to see the queen, but I will return anon to collect up yonder fat carter." And with that he was off.

As soon as Sekharoth could peek into the inn's cramped, darkened hallway to confirm the cavalryman was gone, he rounded on Teru. "I know a man. Here, in this very city. A black-marketeer by the name of Al-Q'ut. He will have poison, I am sure of it. If we act quickly, we can taint this wine. We shall slay this bandit 'queen' and half her entourage in one fell act!" For his part Teru was skeptical. He felt that a more public end, perhaps being burned at the stake or flayed alive or devoured by scarabs would be more fitting. But his companion seemed adamant, and at the very least they would come away from this with another tool that might come in handy. Slipping out of the wayhouse by a little-used side entrance, the two monks stole into the night.

The first thing that the two men noticed was that the streets were nearly deserted. It was unnaturally quiet, the calm disturbed only by the cool sea breeze. It was just after sunset, and in the desert lands of Stygia this time of night usually brought people out of their homes. The cool evening was a time for worship, socializing, or conducting business away from the uncomfortable heat of the day. But tonight there were few people outside. And no women whatsoever. The pair avoided the boisterous bands of soldiers - sell-swords - who were the only parties roaming the streets. The men approached a non-descript door in an unassuming house, upon which Sekharoth knocked quietly. Shortly, the door opened just a crack. A surprised voice from inside hissed, "You?!?" A bony arm reached out, grabbing Sekharoth by the cloak, jerking him inside. "Are you mad? Come in quickly! Quickly!" Teru followed.

In the dim, cluttered interior of the dwelling Teru got his first good look at Al-Q'ut. He was small, somewhat dirty, with slightly bulging eyes. He demanded to know just what Sekharoth thought he was doing, and whether the monk was, in fact, trying to get them all killed. Sekharoth explained the task that lay before the monks and of the opportunity presented by the tun of honeyed wine. Invoking the name of Set to instill faith (or fear) in the man, Sekharoth demanded the black-marketeer's aid in the form of poison. "I know you have it. Give it to us now and let us strike this blow for Father Night!"

Perhaps it was chance. Perhaps it was Sekharoth's invocation of the god's name. Perhaps it was the alignment of the stars. Whatever the cause, at that moment Set's gaze and attention was cast upon the tableau unfolding in the darkened dwelling. With a knowing available only to the divine, the god comprehended at an instant what these insignificant mortals were attempting in his name. For weeks the god had looked down upon this tiny settlement and seethed. His priests slaughtered, his temple defiled, idols to lesser gods erected in lands that were his by right. It angered him, and he had several times considered blowing forth a mighty sandstorm that would wipe the town and its heathen usurpers from the map. But retribution was a long game requiring patience. This barbarian "queen" must be dealt with, that much was true. But her fierceness was a tool, and how much sweeter would his vengeance be if she could be turned to his cause? And here came these "devout" monks, about to fail him while invoking his name! Simpletons! Though the serpent in him applauded the idea of using poison, Set had bigger plans. He had to act before these mortals did something foolish, as was always the way of mortals. Sending forth a tendril of his power, he slithered into the mind of Al-Q'ut, casting aside the man's will as one might shed a cloak. Or as a serpent might shed a skin.

Though he did not comprehend its source, Teru noted the sudden steel in the black-marketeer's voice, the sudden cold, hard, deep cast to his eyes. "No. You shall not have it. Be gone and do not return." Undeterred, Sekharoth brandished his stout walking stick. "Tell me where it is, cur, or I shall be forced to beat you soundly."

For his part, Teru invoked the name of Set himself. Ordinarily, the magician-monk could adopt the beguiling, hypnotic gaze of the cobra, shaping the opinions of the weak-willed. But the gaze returned by Al-Q'ut was flat. Void. Empty. Teru began to suspect something was very wrong indeed.

Seeing that his threats were having no effect, Sekharoth turned from Al-Q'ut in disgust. "Fine, I'll find it myself," he blustered, and began ransacking the cluttered abode. Boxes, casks, amphorae, and satchels of every shape, size, and description lay scattered about the place, each containing some article of variously worthless, valuable, legitimate, stolen, or contraband good. Calmly, Al-Q'ut strode to Sekharoth and laid a hand upon his arm. His grip was like iron. With a grunt, Sekharoth tore himself away. Seizing Al-Q'ut's wife (recently appeared to see what all of the commotion was about), the big monk grabbed the collar of her garment, forcing her to her knees and cruelly twisting to constrict her breathing. "Give me what I want, or you will become a widower this night."

Though most who dealt with him believed the weasely Al-Q'ut bore loyalty to no one but himself, the threat to the one person in the world he held most dear was enough to cause the man's will to reassert itself. Concentration suddenly rent asunder, the god's control over the mortal was broken, the backlash causing some portion of Set's energy to be spilled into the aether. A sudden peal of thunder was heard in the distance. As if waking from a hazy dream, the black-marketeer's eyes regained focus. "Of course! Yes, I'll give you the poison!" Retrieving a small, unlabeled cask from a cluttered shelf, he said, "Take it and go!"

Satisfied, Sekharoth took the cask and stepped back into the night without another word. Before leaving, Teru cast one last glance back at Al-Q'ut, now comforting his wife and once again showing no outward signs of what mystery had just transpired. Giving a shiver, Teru followed Sekharoth back out into the darkened streets.

Easy Come, Easy Go
If the monks thought to slip back to the wayhouse unseen, their plans were soon put awry. Hastily doubling back to avoid the sounds of an obvious scuffle ahead (undoubtedly the vicious pummeling of a local administered by Sorcha's thugs), the two men blundered into another group of bandit sell-swords. "Well, well, what have we here?" blustered a heavily-scarred Hyrkanian. The stink of alcohol clung about the mercenaries like a fog, and their Hyrkanian leader was visibly reeling on his feet. When his eyes managed to focus in the same direction, he eyed the small cask in Sekharoth's hands.

"Come, we don't want any trouble," said Teru. "We're just trying to get to our inn."

"If you don't want any trouble, what are you doing out at night like a pack of thieves? And what have you got there? Give it here!" The man made a drunken lunge for the cask of poison. Another made a grab for Teru, but managed only to get hold of his cloak. With a quickness surprising for his size, Sekharoth leapt back a pace - only to give Teru a sharp shove towards the drunken Hyrkanian, then turn to flee. "Not so fast, cur!" said one of the other bandits, leaping over the tangle of men and shoulder-checking Sekharoth into the wall of the alley. As the big monk fell, the poison dropped from his hands, the miniature barrel rolling and coming to a rest a few paces away.

While the monks did their best to scuttle away, what followed was a savage beating, albeit one administered by a pack of fumbling drunks. Sekharoth suffered the worst of it, probably because his bigger size meant more of the sell-swords devoted themselves to kicking him rather than Teru. One of the bandit mercenaries staggered aside to retrieve the cask, uncorked it, and took a swig. "Pfaugh! Is this what passes for fine spirits in this cursed land?!? This stuff is horrid! Here, taste this!"

"Blech! You idiot, that's awful!"

"I know! Is that not the worst thing you've ever tasted? Shadoch, come try this!"

Their energy and immediate appetite for violence spent, the bandits moved on in search of other prey. Despite the soreness in his now swollen lip, Teru couldn't help but smile, for he knew that at least some of Sorcha's men would be dead by morning.

2
other lumpley games / [IAWA] Changing Forms Mid-Conflict?
« on: June 23, 2015, 07:11:08 PM »
First, let me preface with how much we are loving this game! We've decided to double-down on the theme and are running the game set in the "Hyborian Age" popularized by R.E.Howard's (and others') Conan stories. So far it has been an awful lot of fun.

A question has come up, however, regarding conflicts, and specifically the forms that are used within a conflict.

For example, say I (the dashing mercenary captain) am trying to sneak into the princess' chambers, while you (the head eunuch) are patrolling the palace grounds trying to catch just such interlopers. "Love" isn't strictly what I had in mind where the princess is concerned, so I decide I am acting covertly and for myself, whereas you decide you are acting directly and for others. We roll our dice, conflict proceeds as normal. Maybe in the first round I suffer a setback, giving you the advantage (which I narrate appropriately, perhaps as taking a wrong turn into an occupied room with some very surprised denizens).

But say halfway through the conflict, I decide I want to use different forms. How would it be handled if, for instance, I wanted to suddenly act with violence and club these people into unconsciousness before they could sound an alarm? Can I do this, or are the forms I'm using fixed?

In the example used in the rules it says, "Choose two forms, always two, that match what your character’s doing and why. If three or more apply, that’s okay, choose whichever two of them you like," which sort of implies that the specifics of the form are somewhat flexible. But it also says, "I say what Mekha does. Since I’ve rolled direct and for myself, it has to be direct and for himself. It can’t be violent, or I’d have rolled with violence instead." This implies that the form is important.

So in my example, I actually can't club the people to keep them from raising the alarm. Or can I, because my violence is not directed at the head eunuch, who is my real opponent in this conflict? Or at some point during the conflict can I just say, "nuts to all this sneaking business, I'm going to fight my way to the princess' chambers!" and substitute my d6 covertly die for my d12 with violence die?

This feels somehow wrong to me, especially considering the dice size of your first round forms determine whether or not you go on the owe list. My gut inclination is to say that this effectively opening a new conflict. So yeah, sure, I could draw my sword and start hacking my way toward the princess at any time - but doing so would be to concede defeat in my attempts to sneak, meaning we'd essentially be negotiating mid-conflict and immediately opening a new conflict, with all of the normal consequences that entails (e.g. you elect to "injure" me - which you narrate as having one of the surprised women in the occupied room I've just entered scream and heave a brass ewer at my head). We both pick new forms and away we go.

Thoughts?

3
Apocalypse World / Custom moves for a moldy and decaying AW
« on: January 23, 2014, 06:58:30 PM »
In accordance with a bit of excellent advice given on this forum (sorry, forget who, but the idea was fantastic) I asked each of my players to come up with an adjective to describe their Apocalypse.  To my great joy they came up with moldy, fiery, cloudy, and animal-infested.  Superb!  So I have already established the setting as a dreary, overcast, occasionally foggy, eternally damp place, where humanity lives in constant combat with the elements.  Dessicants and antifungals are hot barter items, and if a structure is still standing it's probably because it's either stone or has received a liberal coat of marine paint.  Additionally, the hardhold in which they are currently living/working is in the equivalent of hilly Appalachian coal country.  There's a small manufactory that does coal gasification, the subsequent products of which are the town's main trade good.  The plant runs 24/7, belching out smoke and fumes.  Additionally, the coal slag is used to fire furnaces that dry out the dessicants most people use to keep the creeping damp at bay.

I have also established that the mold is unnaturally aggressive.  In addition to consuming soft goods in short order, there are strains that can live inside the human body.  Typically the spores take root in the lungs or nasal passages, and the mold will push tendrils through blood vessels until it reaches delicious delicious muscle tissue, which it then begins to consume.  If caught early it's perfectly treatable, but if left too long the mold will form fruiting bodies in the airways, expelling spores with every exhalation, making the victim a contagion hazard.  Oh, and did I mention that the mycotoxin secreted by this mold as a byproduct of its life cycle is hallucinogenic?  Heh.

In order to represent these concepts functionally within the world, I wanted to add the following Threats to the Home Front:

Threat 1
Is called: The Miasma
Kind: Landscape: furnace
Impulse: To consume anything and everything, to turn the world into a damp, green, rusty carpet
Description & Cast: The drizzle, the fog, and the constant damp - these are perfect conditions for both rust/oxidation and several species of aggressive mold.  The very air itself is the enemy, and as such is difficult to escape.
Custom move: At the beginning of each session, or after a stretch of downtime in play, roll+Sharp.  On a 10+, you manage to spot the decay early and keep on top of all of the maintenance your gear requires.  On a 7-9, something has gotten gummed up - roughened, softened, seized, or stuck.  Pick one item of your gear (can include 1-barter) and take -1forward next time you try to use that item - a little use will shake things loose again, or maybe you can pass it off to some other sucker.  On a miss, something has gotten damaged - eroded, rusty, moldy, brittle, or cracked.  Pick an item of your gear (can include 1-barter) and take -1ongoing whenever you use that item - it's just not as effective anymore.  Any use of gummed-up or damaged gear that wouldn't normally require a roll (such as spending barter for goods or services as established) counts as acting under fire, to which the gear's penalties will apply.  An item can sustain up to -2ongoing before becoming useless junk.

Custom move: When you drop jingle to fight the elements, you may drop 1-barter to remove the effects of gummed-up or damaged gear.  Presumably you acquire the necessary tools, parts, solvents, lubricants, dessicants, rust-inhibitors, or antifungals needed to restore your gear to acceptable working condition.


Threat 2
Is called: Psychotropic Mold, a.k.a "The Creep"
Kind: Affliction: disease
Impulse: To spread, using humanity as a vector
Description & Cast: An aggressive variety of mold, spores of which typically take root in the lungs or nasal passages.  The mold spreads along blood vessels (discoloring them dark gray-green as it goes), ultimately reaching and consuming muscle tissue.  Its mycotoxic byproducts are hallucinogenic.  In more advanced stages, the mold forms spore-bearing bodies in the airways, becoming contagious.
Custom move: When you are exposed to an infected and contagious person or spend time in a Creep-infested structure, roll+Weird.  On a 10+, you got lucky - this time - and have escaped infection.  On a 7-9 you are infected, start your infection countdown clock at 0:00.  On a miss the mold finds you delicious and grows at an alarming rate, start your infection countdown at 9:00.

Custom move: If you are infected at the beginning of the session, or after a stretch of downtime in play, roll+Weird.  On a 10+ your immune system is fighting the good fight, dial your infection clock back by one tick.  If you were already at 0:00, you are no longer infected.  On a 7-9 your immune system is holding the mold at bay and your infection countdown clock stays where it is.  On a miss the mold is winning, advance your clock by one tick.

Custom move: Count the number of filled segments in your infection countdown clock past 9:00 - this is your Infection score.  At the beginning of every session in which you're infected past 9:00, roll+Infection.  On a 10+ hold 3, on a 7-9 hold 1.  At any time during the session, the MC can spend one hold to make you act under fire.  Whatever it is you're doing, it's probably harder now that you're hallucinating.

Infection Countdown Clock:
0:00 - 3:00 -> No visible symptoms
3:00 - 6:00 -> No visible symptoms
6:00 - 9:00 -> Subtle visible symptoms manifest and can be spotted by asking "what should I be on the lookout for?"
9:00 - 10:00 -> Visible symptoms are obvious, hallucinatory symptoms manifest
10:00 - 11:00 -> Hallucinatory symptoms manifest, victim is contagious
11:00 - 12:00 -> Hallicinatory symptoms manifest, victim is contagious
past 12:00 -> victim is contagious, loses consciousness, death will follow unless treated immediately

Right now there's no Angel in the game, but if that changes I'll probably lift the custom move for treating the mud-fish parasite from the AW fronts example pretty much as-is.  Otherwise, the PCs will be buying the cure from the local infirmary (or from traveling snake-oil salesmen).  I haven't decided yet how much barter the treatment runs.

And as for "animal-infested," rats and other vermin figure prominently in the first Front.  Heh.

The effects I'm going for here are to represent both the long, slow decay of the world (and the people in it) and the idea that most people are carriers of disease at some level.  The Creep is easy to get and hard to fully get rid of, with which if you've ever had a mold infestation in your house you'll be only too familiar.  At its early stages it's not contagious and doesn't adversely affect you, but at any point your immune system could lapse and the situation can get out of hand.

Thoughts, comments, or suggestions?

4
brainstorming & development / Ronin World
« on: January 14, 2014, 09:36:29 PM »
In another thread, plausiblefabulist wrote:
Lastly, we ought to move this to another thread! Are you going to make one for this game?

Ask and ye shall receive!

Quote from: plausiblefabulist date=1389707363
Munin, very interesting, and this sounds good. Minor thoughts and quibbles:

I think my objection to Passion/Fury has to do with the English word, "passion". Passion originally comes from the root for suffering -- it's cognate with pathetic, and the German is the same, "Leidenschaft. Someone passionate about something feels strongly about it whether they want to or not; they are moved by it despite themselves. A passionate lover is one carried away by the storms of passion. A dispassionate lover is one who can say no, who can say "sure, I'll do you, but only if X." A passionate lover has no such option. A passionate artist paints what they are driven to paint; a dispassionate artist can decide what offers the best chance of advancement, etc.
True.  Terminology is important.  Ultimately I'd like to use Japanese terminology, but the downside of that is that it breaks many of the connotation links that non-Japanese-speaking people have for certain terms.  You think something particular when I say "Passion," which is interesting and cool.  I wonder if I used more obscure terminology if that would still be the case.

Quote from: plausiblefabulist date=1389707363
If anything, Passion suggests "roll-Passion to resist being seduced" -- and it might be interesting to flip the move around that way.
I had considered that.  But I'm not sure about "resistance" moves for various things.  AW has very cleverly lumped all of this stuff into Act Under Fire, but the downside of course is that resisting everything relies on one stat - your Cool.  With the possible exception of spotting a lie, which could fall under Read A Person.

Quote from: plausiblefabulist date=1389707363
I like where you're going with Composure, but again I do wonder there too a little about the English word.
I agree, that's why I used the Japanese terms "ochitsuki" and "gambarimasu" in my explanation.  Your further comments about the orthogonality of stats are good ones, and certainly worth considering.  It could very well be that roll-Fury is inappropriate, and that roll+Composure is what I'd use instead.  In which case, the term "Fury" should probably be rethought because it too has connotations.  I want Fury to be the stat that means "adept at inflicting physical violence," because I think such a stat needs to exist.  In AW, it's Hard, but that has connotation as well, which may not be appropriate to the subject matter at hand.

Quote from: plausiblefabulist date=1389707363
I like the moves. Notice that your "seduce" move is now constrained to an explicit, literal offer of sex, which makes it far more constrained, in context, than any AW-hack seduce move I know of...
Actually, the discussions in the AW rulebook (as well as here on the forums) make it clear that Seduce is explicitly using sex to get what you want.  It is the carrot.  It is the thing that you are offering when making the move.  And even in AW, on a 10+ whether you keep the promise is up to you later (i.e. you're could be just leading the person on).  But if you hit 7-9, they want something concrete now.  Quid pro quo, as it were.

Quote from: plausiblefabulist date=1389707363
Geishas have playbook moves allowing them to replace actual consummation with artful leading-on?
This I like.

Quote from: plausiblefabulist date=1389707363
Your seduce move and drive a hard bargain move are identical in their effects when you use them on PCs, which is interesting.
Not quite.  It depends on what you're offering them to entice them to do what you want.  And if that thing is sex, then you are seducing them (and use the appropriate stat).  And if they take it, that has further ramifications, especially when it comes to their Special moves.  As a vanilla AW example, say that I as the Skinner want to get the Operator to keep me happy (perhaps by giving me bling).  The best way to do that is to seduce him or her into having sex with me such that the Operator Special kicks in, because the Operator picks up the associated obligation gig of keeping me happy.

Quote from: plausiblefabulist date=1389707363
I think, for balance, if you have -Honor and -Fury moves, then you need -stat moves for the other stats too.
Perhaps, but the more I think about these, the more I wonder if they are appropriate.  See above under "resistance" moves.  It is touching on some player agency issues, though.  I don't ever want to tell a player, "because of the result of X roll, you must do Y."  Even in the case of massively flubbing the let an insult go unchallenged example, you only pick two of the bad outcomes, which means that you are never required to strike without warning.  You can if you so choose, but because striking is an action on the part of the character, the player should never be forced into it.

Quote from: plausiblefabulist date=1389707363
I'm also not sure the "-Fury if private, -Honor if public" distinction is crisp.
I agree, and think I would limit it to just roll-Honor.

Quote from: plausiblefabulist date=1389707363
(This is making me realize that one aspect of the genius of AW, and one reason it works, is the orthogonality of Hot/Cool/Sharp/Hard/Weird -- they really describe different things and don't overlap)
Agreed.

Quote from: plausiblefabulist date=1389707363
Shouldn't being caught in a lie have a consequence to Reputation?
It does, and was mentioned in the example I typed up that got eaten by the internet.

Quote from: plausiblefabulist date=1389707363
Why are PCs under obligation to you if you lie to them and they don't believe you? Because other people believe you? Do they have some option to expose your lie for what it is?
Remember that there is no "resistance" roll.  If you are lying and your roll is successful, it means that you have lied successfully.  But because I don't want to remove player agency, I want to leave players an "out" when another PC lies to their character.  It is exactly the same as AW manipulate - I am successful at my roll, but the option to go along with it is yours.  Same here, and I decided to use Obligation because if you refuse a reasonable request or treat someone as dishonest when all "evidence" points to the contrary, you incur a social debt.

Quote from: plausiblefabulist date=1389707363
I don't think High-Born Ladies really need to screw their way to the top. It's low-born ladies who want to ascend via that ladder who would need that move, right? Some kind of social climber through sex playbook (or playbook subset) would be interesting, though it ought to be available to both genders, wouldn't you think?
No, the High-Born Lady is attempting to advance her station within her overall class.  She is looking to marry up, make influential friends, and build a web of obligations from influential people.  In a society that has distinct class divisions, the low-born lady doesn't have as far to go, and her social climbing is of a different sort.

Quote from: plausiblefabulist date=1389707363
How are you handling gender anyway? Currently -- unless your Artist and Bandit can be either gender -- you only have two classes that are explicitly female -- the Geisha and High-Born Lady -- and so far (admittedly we only have a smattering of moves) you've characterized them both as mostly using sex to get what they want;
I am thinking that the best way to do this is to have gender-neutral playbooks with a few gender-specific moves.  So for instance, I might have the "Noble" playbook with "daimyo" and "high-born lady" as potential starting moves.  Similarly, you could have a Courtier playbook with "geisha" and "aide-de-camp" as opening moves.  Not all playbooks need these.  I could easily see female Ninja, Monk (Nun), or Bandit characters.  And historical record has ladies who became Samurai (or "onna-bugeisha" which is not exactly a samurai but has most of the same important qualities for purposes of the game), thus opening the way to Ronin and making these playooks gender-neutral as well.  And the interesting thing about the gender-specific moves within a gender-neutral playbook is that you don't have to take them.  So if you want to play a female Courtier without being a geisha, that should be an option.


5
brainstorming & development / Viking Playbook
« on: December 18, 2013, 10:53:17 PM »
I'm looking at running a re-skinned version of AW in a low-fantasy medieval setting (Harn, for those who might be curious).  Not really a full hack, just a difference in setting and a few cosmetic changes.  Pretty much all of the playbooks convert straight across as-is or with very little modification with the notable exception of the Driver.

But one of the things that's present in the area where the game is to be set are viking raiders, and it occurred to me that if I was looking for a character that was mobile, someone with a ship could be cool.  But just having a ship can be pretty limiting, so I wanted to add more to it.  A gang of raiders seems kind of cool, but I wanted to be careful not to tread too heavily on the Chopper's toes.  The trick is to work things out such that the Viking has its own niche, but isn't completely useless if the story isn't taking place at sea.  This is my attempt to balance that idea.  So I give you:

THE VIKING

STATS
Choose one set:
• Cool=0 Hard-1 Hot+1 Sharp+2 Weird=0
• Cool+1 Hard=0 Hot=0 Sharp+2 Weird-1
• Cool=0 Hard+1 Hot-1 Sharp+2 Weird=0
• Cool+1 Hard-2 Hot=0 Sharp+2 Weird+1

MOVES
You get all the basic moves, as well as a no shit sailor and raid leader.

*  A no shit sailor: when at the helm...
...if you do something under fire, add your ship’s power to your roll.
...if you try to seize something by force, add your ship’s power to your roll.
...if you go aggro, add your ship’s power to your roll.
...if you try to seduce or manipulate someone, add your ship’s looks to your roll.
...if you help or interfere with someone, add your ship’s power to your roll.
...if someone interferes with you, add your ship’s weakness to their roll.

*  Raid leader: when you try to impose your will on your crew, roll+hard. If you are at the helm, add your ship's power as well.  On a 10+, all 3.
On a 7–9, choose 1:
• they do what you want
• they don’t fight back over it
• you don’t have to make an example of one of them
On a miss, someone in your gang makes a dedicated bid to replace you for raid leader.

O  Good in the clinch: when you do something under fire, roll+sharp instead of roll+cool.

O  Weather eye: when you open your brain to the world’s psychic maelstrom, roll+sharp
instead of roll+weird.

O  Daredevil: if you go straight into danger without hedging your bets, you get +1armor.
If you happen to be leading a gang or convoy, it gets +1armor too.

CRAP
Your crew is a lightly-armed mob of 10-15 blood-thirsty raiders who know their way around both a hawser and an axe (2-Harm gang small unruly savage 1-armor).

Your ship is a modest long-boat capable of carrying a small gang in addition to its crew.

Choose one of these profiles:
• power+2 looks+1 1-armor weakness+1
• power+2 looks+2 0-armor weakness+1
• power+1 looks+2 1-armor weakness+1
• power+2 looks+1 2-armor weakness+2

Pick one per power:
• Your crew is heavily armed (+1harm)
• Your crew is heavily armored (+1armor)
• Your crew is numerous (counts as a medium gang)
• Your ship is capacious (can hold either a medium gang or a small mounted gang in addition to its crew)
• Your ship is armored (gives +1 armor to people fighting from it)
• Your ship has braziers and fire arrows (gives +1harm reload to people fighting from it)
• Your ship is easy to handle (can be crewed effectively by just a few people)
• Your ship is fast
• Your ship is rugged
• Your ship is easy to repair
• Your ship has a shallow-draft

Pick one per weakness:
• Your crew is prone to drunkenness (vulnerable: desertion)
• Your crew is a pack of scurvy dogs (vulnerable: disease)
• Your crew has made bitter enemies (vulnerable: reprisals)
• Your crew owes a significant debt to someone powerful (vulnerable: obligation)
• Your ship is hard to handle (needs at least 10 people to crew effectively)
• Your ship is cramped (fits only the crew)
• Your ship is slow
• Your ship is fragile
• Your ship is finicky
• Your ship is unreliable

VIKING SPECIAL
If you and another character have sex, they immediately mark +1 Hx with you.  In addition, they may also choose whether to give you -1 or +1 to your Hx with them.
In addition, roll+hard. On a 10+, it’s cool, the conquest is yours and your crew is impressed - take +1 forward with them. On a 7–9, there's a little grumbling but it doesn't amount to more than talk.  On a miss, they're pissed at you for not sharing - you can either take -1 forward with them or impose your will.

IMPROVEMENT
__ get +1hard (max hard+2)
__ get +1hot (max hot+2)
__ get +1weird (max weird+2)
__ get a new viking move
__ get a new viking move
__ choose a new option for your crew or ship
__ get 2 gigs (detail) and moonlighting
__ get a move from another playbook
__ get a move from another playbook

__ get +1 to any stat (max stat+3)
__ retire your character (to safety)
__ create a second character to play
__ change your character to a new type
__ choose 3 basic moves and advance them.
__ advance the other 4 basic moves.


Analysis: The Viking has both a gang and a vehicle, but needs to split his choices between them.  As such, his gang won't ever be as good as the Chopper's.  Additionally, (and perhaps somewhat subtlely), I chose to make the Viking's gang unruly in addition to simply savage, and discipline is not one of the crew improvement options.  This strikes me as characterful, largely because what we're talking about here isn't an organized mounted warband (like the Chopper's gang) but rather a group of men banded together for the sole purpose of raiding to get rich.  They're going to have different ideas about how best to accomplish that.

Furthermore, most of the stat pack options don't help the Viking out with Hard rolls.  This makes imposing your will on the gang dicey when you're not at the helm.  So in shipboard actions, imposing your will should be OK.  But once the boat is beached and your men are running around causing havok?  Not so much.

I am hoping I've struck a decent balance here, but I'm interested to get other peoples' feedback on it.  What have I gotten right and what have I missed?  I'm especially interested in opinions on the Viking Special move, because I'm curious as to whether having a sex move affect the character's other crap will work well.


6
roleplaying theory, hardcore / Scene-Centric MC Style?
« on: November 27, 2013, 05:27:25 AM »
This topic came up in another thread under the AW section, but it is something that I thought might be interesting in its own thread.

Quote from: Munin
I too have come to really concentrate on scene-centered methods.  It's funny, because this is something for which we all have an intrinsic feel, but that is very rarely spelled out explicitly in telling you how to MC a game.  Vincent's "don't make your character's lives boring" is fantastic advice, but unless you understand framing, pacing, introducing tension and escalating it to conflict, exposition, dialogue, and juxtaposition like a filmmaker, it's kind of like black magic - as a player you can feel when a GM is doing it right and when they're not, but it's not always easy to say why.  It's like the Supreme Court's definition of pornography vs. art - you know it when you see it.

In that thread, zefir made the comment that the most fun comes from having good scenes, regardless of the story.  When I think back on some of the most memorable moments in all the games in which I've played or GM/MC'd, I think this is a very insightful statement.

And if you think about certain movies or TV shows or whatever, it's the great scenes that stand out.  Goodfellas is an OK movie, but the scene in which Joe Pesci busts out with "whaddyou mean I'm 'funny'?" is amazing.  So intense, so evocative.  The scene in A History of Violence where Viggo Mortensen's character drops the "just a small-town short-order cook" act and opens up a can of whoop-ass on the goons threatening his family is awesome.  The way his mannerisms, tone of voice, and even facial expression change as though he's flicking a light-switch is crazy-memorable.  From Boromir's heroic/tragic death scene in Fellowship of the Ring to the unforgettable, "I am your father, Luke" it's these scenes that grab us, throw us to the ground, and make us beg them to violate us.

That is the shit I want to capture in my games.

But how do we do that?  What distinguishes a good film/TV episode/book/whatever from a mediocre one?  As it turns out this stuff is kind of hard, and there's a reason that good directors, screen-writers, and authors make fatty boatloads of cash - doing this stuff well takes some skill and a whole lot of dedication.

Over the years I've had a chance to ruminate on a bunch of this stuff, but recently I've actually begun formalizing it.  I'd like to barf forth some of those ideas and get feedback.  Specifically, I'd like to hear what has worked for other MCs and what hasn't or how different players' play-styles have interacted with MCs setting a scene.  So here goes...

When constructing a scene in which the player characters are "on-screen," I find it useful to consider the following ideas.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I think it helps to keep me focused:

Setting: In this regard, AW gives some great advice in the simple tip "barf forth apocalyptica."  I find that in just a few sentences, the MC can create a very evocative setting, specifically by appealing to the player's senses.  Not just how the scene looks, but how it smells, how it feels.  Instead of "you meet with Cage way out in the Ash Wastes," give it a little extra oomph: "Cage is waiting for you in the Ash Wastes under the dessicated husk of a huge old oak tree.  There's a bit of a breeze, which ruffles the messages that travellers nail to the tree for passers-by to carry on if they happen to be going in the right direction.  The withered trunk provides the only shade for miles, and he's squarely occupying it."

This kind of description is cool because it also sets up a little tension from the start.  Cage has claimed the shade, a psychological ploy.  It's minor but a subtle dig.  And real people play little power-games like this all the time, so it speaks to both Cage's personality and the verisimilitude of the world.

You have to take a little bit of care here though, because it's easy to go all JRRTolkien and describe the place in too much detail.  Three or four sentences max.  Choose your words well and you can pack a lot in those sentences, especially if you use words that are heavily laden with connotation.  If you want to add extra details, do it as the scene unfolds.  Maybe the meet with Cage isn't going well.  You can use the setting description to ratchet up the tension: "Cage looks kind of pissed, and keeps tugging on the collar of his coat.  Probably from the inevitable ashen grit that gets kicked up out here."

And don't forget to rope the players in by asking: "How do you cope with the ash dust?"

Extras: Unless this is a scene with only the PCs, give some thought to the other people around.  Maybe give them a sentence when you describe the scene, "The place reeks of rag-weed smoke, and the clientele look pretty sullen and dirty."  Any NPCs with whom the PCs interact should get a little something more.  "Nabs is 'cleaning' the glasses by spitting in them and wiping them out with his filthy apron.  He looks up at you with a bored expression, puts the glass he just 'washed' on the bar in front of you, and says, 'whatcha drinkin?'  What do you do?"

It is here that the concepts of setting (world) and setting (scene) come into contact.  One of the key elements to creating a verisimilitudinous world is to have NPCs with believable motivations, goals, foibles, and quirks.  Like Vincent says in AW, they "follow their parts."  That's great advice, but in order to convey it to the players, you have to actually convey it to the players.  But just like you never reference your move by name, you shouldn't openly describe your NPCs' motivations directly.  Describe what Nabs does not what he thinks, but have him actually do stuff during the scene such that the players can see him for who he really is.  Give your players enough to piece together on their own the idea that Nabs is a lazy fucker who cares only for coin.  They'll feel clever and Nabs will feel more real.

Tension: Every scene should have some built-in tension.  It doesn't need to be a full-on gunfight or anything crazy, but there should be somebody in the scene who isn't happy.  Or maybe who's too happy.  The tension doesn't even have to come from the primary NPCs - it can come from the nameless extras or even from the setting itself.  But it should always be there.  Maybe when the PCs walk into Nabs' establishment, the filthy, desperate looking patrons at one of the far tables give them the stink-eye.  Now the players are on the alert for trouble, and even if nothing comes from it it still helps set the stage.  And the players can never be sure which threats are real and which are imagined - and their reactions to things have the potential to take the story in directions you never imagined.

Similarly, this is a good place to stick an established NPC as an extra (as opposed to a speaking role).  So if we've already established that Parsons, the Hardholder's chief lieutenant is a prick, and if he and Deke the Battlebabe have already tangled, having Parsons sitting at one of the tables when the players enter Nabs' place is great.  "Deke, once your eyes adjust to the dim, smoky interior, you notice that Parsons is sitting at one of the corner tables.  He leers at you, and makes a rude gesture. With his tongue."  And again, even if the players never interact directly with Parsons during the scene, his presence helps set the stage.

And from the setting itself?  Maybe the scene takes place in the manufactory, where it's hot and noisy and sparks and molten metal occasionally drop from the catwalks above.  Or like the above scene in the Ash Wastes, where it's hot, the sun is blazing, the grit is irritating, and everyone knows you don't want to get caught out here after dark.

Even in a place where the PCs are "safe" there should be some situational tension.  Maybe a couple of the PCs are chilling in the Savvyhead's workspace when an urchin brings a note from Spider impatiently wondering when the Savvyhead's going to be finished with his bike.  Note that this setting of situational tension is a great use for "announcing future badness."  While the location might be a "safe" space, the intrusive external demand on the Savvyhead PC's time adds an element of external tension, even if Spider is never present in the scene.  And Spider may never have been mentioned before the scene started, but now the Savvyhead knows he's fixing the bike of a guy who lacks patience.  Even if Spider is never referenced again (which would be a shame), it gives depth to the world and the PCs' places within it.

As an aside, this is another great way to ask the players, and is a good teachable moment for players unused to having direct input into the story.  When your player says, "OK, but who the fuck is Spider?" just turn it back on them - "I don't know.  You're the one fixing his bike, so you tell me."  The answer is almost sure to better than whatever half-formed idea the MC had in mind initially, so go with it.

Conflict: AW gives us another fantastic piece of advice, which is "play to find out."  This is absolutely great, but if you're not careful it can be at odds with "don't make the characters' lives boring."  Sometimes, when left to their own devices players will get into role-play scenes in which there is no conflict.  Nothing actually happens in the scene.  Sure, they want to talk in-character, and you should absolutely give them plenty of opportunities to do so.

But something needs to happen.  It doesn't need to be a fight, or even anything physical, but the nature of the story and/or the PCs' roles within it should change, at least a little bit, in every scene.  I find that a good rule of thumb is that at least once during any given scene, dice should hit the table.  Give the players opportunities to use their skills and abilities, and they won't disappoint.  Even something as simple as "read a sitch" can be a conflict - something is hinky about the social dynamic between the NPCs and the PC needs to figure out what it is.  Or one of the NPCs doesn't seem completely forthcoming - what's she hiding?  And the more you have the players rolling dice, the more chances you have to subject them to fuckery.

And here the rule of "to do it, do it" is key.  If the player is describing their actions in a way that sounds like a move, make them roll.  Be free with information, but don't give them freebies.  The risks associated with the random chance of actually rolling the dice can serve to enhance the tension in the scene.

So before you frame a scene and begin describing the setting and the extras, give some thought as to what the central conflict might be.  You might be totally wrong, and you'll have to balance "play to find out" with "don't go in blind."  Just because no plan survives first-contact with the players doesn't mean you shouldn't have at least some kind of plan.  The players might take things in a very different direction than you imagined, and that's OK, but at some point something needs to happen, whether it's sussing out information, gaining a new insight, getting leverage over an NPC, or a vicious face-stabbing.  Or you know, all of the above.

Exposition: Right, so sometimes raw information needs to be given out.  Exposition is one of those things you need to handle carefully.  Like describing a setting, exposition is a great excuse to "barf forth apocalyptica", but suffers from some of the same drawbacks.  You need to make sure you're not droning and that your players are still engaged.  There are a couple of ways to do this, but I think the easiest ones are to a) bury the exposition, or b) put it under a microscope.

Burying the exposition means simply hiding it in the characters' interactions with the world or the NPCs.  So rather than going into a long-winded explanation about how the Fix Virus works and how members of the Sun Cult cut off peoples' lips to make sure no one has it, reveal it only through the NPCs.  "Nabs watches you drink and says, 'it's good to have customers with lips again.'"  Chances are good that this will make the players say "WTF?" and engage with him.  "'Yeah, we had a buncha Sun Cultists in here last week.  Idiots cut off their lips so's everyone can see they got no lesions on their gums.  On account o' they don't wanna have anyone carrying the Fix.'"  Boom.  Three sentences.  Instant apocalyptica.

Putting the exposition under a microscope means talking about it out of character, but bringing the PCs thoughts and feelings into the discussion.  "So one of the first stages of the Fix Virus causes lesions to form on your gums.  It's the earliest warning indicator.  Deke, what was your reaction the first time you entered a holding and the guards examined your mouth in some detail before they allowed you entry?"  Or "You see couple of dudes in the market, and their orange scarves mark them clearly as Sun Cultists.  They have had their lips removed.  Samson, how does watching them eat street-food with no lips strike you?"

Pacing: Try to keep scenes popping.  If a scene is hitting on all cylinders, you can let it go a while. But once the scene's central conflict (no matter how big or small) has been resolved, you should be looking for a way to wind it down, and quickly.  If you have lots of players, the easiest way is to just switch to a new scene for someone else.  But if the story demands that the same characters move from one scene to the next, you need to make that happen.  Use your transition to set the stage of the next scene.  If the players are going from Nabs' place to The Shrine, throw in a sentence or two about what's happening in the market along the way.  And maybe give the players the chance to interact there as well.  "As you leave Nabs' and head across the marketplace, the acid-drizzle has just started. Up the way there's a shunt-cart blocking the street and pissing everyone off.  What do you do?"

And if they answer, "curse at these filthy fucking poors and continue on to the Shrine," then that's fine too.

Flow: The concept of flow covers how you escalate or alternate things from one scene to the next.  Not every scene needs to be a tense, gripping, drama-filled vignette.  Intersperse heavy stuff with lighter stuff.  But remember that even comic relief can (and should) have internal conflict.  That conflict is low-stakes and may not even feel like anything important, but it's there.

This is also where you think about how best to share screen time among the PCs.  If your players are old-school, they'll have a tendency to stick together.  Use your moves to split them up and construct scenes that will let each character shine individually.  If the Chopper always feels like he's playing second-fiddle to the Battlebabe, construct a scene that is all about the internal politics of Chopper's gang, preferably after he's been separated from the rest of the party (and the Battlebabe in particular).  Make everyone feel special.

And even if a PC isn't on screen, you can still make them feel special by featuring their "crap" in a scene.  The Hardholder, Chopper, Hocus, Operator, Angel, and Savvyhead can all have associated NPCs.  Use those NPCs in someone else's scene (a great way to build PC-NPC-PC triangles).  You can even use their inanimate crap.  If the Gun-Lugger is looking for a quiet, arguably semi-private place to get his freak on with Maggie, maybe she pulls him into the back of the Driver's nearby van.  And ask: "Hey Lugs, how is it that Maggie can get into your van?"  "'Cause I forgot to lock it after she was in there with me."  Oh, dang!  And next time the Driver's car is integral to a setting, be sure to mention the suspicious stains on the leather seats.  Heh.

Juxtaposition: If scenes are long and/or complicated, it can be useful to break them up into parts.  This lets you play the kinds of cinematography games frequently used in movies, where you switch back and forth between two scenes.  This is especially cool if what's happening in the two scenes is related.  Like in one scene, Deke is trying get Nabs to tell her where the Sun Cult is holed up, and in the other scene the Sun Cultists are torturing the fuck out of Samson.

Another good use for juxtaposition is in a battle in which multiple characters are participating. I think this is related to what Vincent is talking about when he says to sometimes zoom in on the fighting and sometimes gloss over it.  By effectively setting "sub-scenes" within the overall scene of the battle, you can make each player feel like their character is contributing something beyond "I follow up on her move."  This is especially true if the PCs are more than a few yards apart.  Describe the setting for the Battlebabe's desperate fight for the gatehouse in as much detail as you do the Gun-Lugger's attempts to keep the Datsun Cannibals out of the wire.  Switch back and forth, especially as soon as someone fails a roll.  Give them a moment to ruminate on their "oh shit" moment and wonder just what sort of bad thing is going to happen to them.  And in a very real, concrete MCing sense, this allows you a little bit of a breather to decide just what sort of fuckery you're going to unleash when you come back to that player's scene.

Take Breaks: This one is straight out of the AW rulebook, and will be doubly important to the MC.  Breaks give you a breather to think about things like your pacing and the kinds of conflicts you want to frame your scenes around.  Give you a little time to think about how you want to describe a setting or which extras you want to have "on-screen" with the PCs.  All of the above stuff is work, and you'll want to give yourself a little mental downtime.  After all, individual players get a rest when they're not in the scene - you don't!  So take it easy and don't burn yourself out.


In the context of AW, remember that you're playing to find out.  But just because you're playing to find out doesn't mean that that finding out can't happen in the context of a well-framed scene.  Let the story unfold based on the PCs' actions, but keep that story moving in whichever direction it's unfolding.  And give them memorable interactions and scenes that will have them talking about "that time when Deke and Thompson hunted down Clemson's killer in the abandoned manufactory."

I'm sure there's stuff I'm missing or glossing over, and I'd love to hear other MCs' experiences here.  Is any of the above useful to you?  Which elements have you already been using?  What worked for you in your games and what didn't?  How much setting description could you get away with?  How did your players respond to "extra" elements within a described setting?  Do your players notice?

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