Actual Play – For Olive (8/16/2014)

the warrenGM: Steve Segedy
Players: Jason Morningstar, Kristin Firth, Jeremy Friesen
System: The Warren

Tag line for this game: Apocalypse World meets Watership Down. Rabbits = humans; humans = the apocalypse.

Tag line for this particular instance of this game: Damn it’s late, I need a drink. Oooh, open spot at a table with Jeremy, Kristin, and Steve. Sure, I’ll play.

Introductions

When I sat down to play, after just finishing running Stone Dragon Mountain my brain was a bit addled. Jeremy, Kristin, and Steve were sitting at a table that clearly had two players absent. Each of the Morningstar boys had been called off to other duties. I was supposed to go down stairs and have a drink… instead I sat down in front of Thorn.

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Our rabbits had be terrorized by a half blind possom named The Captain and his bobcat muscle Monette. There was a certain understanding that The Captain was in charge and that if we didn’t want trouble, we’d pay him his due, which in this case was a tasty rabbit.

When I sat down some fierce negotiations were already underway. Thorn, and later Squeak had charged the bobcat and stunned him, which gave him pause, but later just made him angrier than he had been. Olive was negotiating with him as he was toying with Milkweed, ready to finish him off anytime Monette got bored.

Olive entreated him to have mercy though and made a deal. Milkweed would live, but Monette would get the first pick of Olive’s next litter.

The Plan

I discovered Thorn was the one that got the attention of Monette in the first place. Also, he had been captured once before, put under a colander and left for days by a human having fun. He dug his way out but had never been the same since.

Milkweed (Jason had returned from an experience) mated with Olive. So did Squeak and Thorn, but it was Milkweed that took a real shine to her. He encouraged her to just come back with him to the swamp. Not enough room for all the rabbits in the warren, but enough for both of them. Olive couldn’t go. She didn’t have the heart to leave behind the rest.

We talked about moving the entire warren, but our den leader refused. It took too long to make this place, better to pay The Captain his due.

We wouldn’t have it though. We would trick The Captain and Monette, with a little help from the rascally raccoon Boupignon… who also fancied Olive.

Day of Reckoning

When Monette returned he was already in a powerfully foul mood. Boupignon had told him that the rabbits had babies but they weren’t going to give them up, they were going to fight to protect them. He arrived ready to eat us all, and was aggravated even further when Olive and Milkweed taunted him from safely inside the warren. He pawed at the whole tried to catch a hold of anything he could.

After being thoroughly frustrated and ready to tear apart the entire warren with is claws, Montette heard another taunt, this time form outside the warren, coming from Squeak. Enraged he gave chase and saw that both Squeak and Thorn were outside. They ran and ran and ran. They ran all the way to the Wake Maker’s camp, where Thorn, despite his early trauma, had been slowly befriending one of the small ones.

They ran down a long pier over the water, right towards one of the Wave Makers, with Monette close behind until there was a deafening crack that came from above, and the bobcat fell dead. The noise caused a horrible panic and Thorn fell into a crab pot, while Squeak bolted away. Thorn’s last wish would be that Squeak tell the den of their bravery and that he take over as leader of the den (the den leader had died during the time it took for Olive to have young).

Thoughts on this game

For two hours (or less, I think I only played the last 90 min) a whole lot happened in that game. More than I am recalling now as I’m writing this. The life if rabbits is terrifying and frantic indeed!

The harm move of loosing moves is particularly well thought out one. By the end Thorn could not Help or Hinder others due to an injured foot, give anything his Full Attention due to a swat at his eye from Monette, and could never again resist panic due to the sheer terror he felt hearing the gun shot and then being trapped in a crab pot. I’m not sure how this would work in long term play, but for a con game it was perfect.

I think I played Thorn a bit more calculating and martyr-like than make sense for his low steady and shrewd scores, but I liked the idea of him realizing he brought the trouble there, and that it was on him to take care of it. The fact that he had been trapped under a colander by a human wasn’t something I knew about till we were already committed to the idea, but it just make the action that much more dire when they told me.

I love the Bayou setting that Jason wrote up. Lâche pas! Lâche pas la patate! (Don’t drop the potato!). Adding voice descriptions did a ton to flesh out the characters, both Steve running them and for us as players.

There is a horror element to the game that I think is important to convey early on. It could have been that this happened before I sat down at the table, so I may be speaking out of turn here. I noticed that I played Thorn much more bold than I probably should have. We were rabbits and rabbits are afraid of everything. I think my response was something like players in Call of Cthulhu who grab shotguns and ammo in hopes to be able to shoot the eldritch horror to death when the tropes of Lovecraft are really looking for them to embrace their hopelessness and isolating in an uncaring world. It comes down to player agency. In games like Apoc World, this isn’t an issue. The characters are super competent and so the limits of their actions are generally only determined by the boldness of the player and the dice rolls.

In horror though, you need another limiter. Moves help, as they show you what you can do. But they don’t necessarily make it explicit what you can’t do. For instance, in an Apocalypse World engine Horror game, a move like “When you face a deep one, roll+sanity. On a miss, you loose control of your character for a time. On a 7-9, you’re deeply scarred and lose something of yourself. On a 10+ you steel yourself against the horror and are able to act again once it has passed.”  In none of those instances does the character get to “act” but their inability to maintain control can still be measured.

It seems like the same could be done for the Warren, either in discussing the principles of the game, or in the moves themselves. Resist Panic is a good one, I think it covers a lot of what I’m going for, but definitely wasn’t a limiter in our game. We had to roll it, and only barely made it several times, but were able to proceed. I think it could be harsher, but I also think that may not be fun for the players.

Bubbles from The Wire is a good example of playing out the inverse side of competence. His moves are centered around dealing with suffering and loss. Making the best he could in a world/situation that was constantly punishing him. And he’s a reminder that it’s not about doing nothing, it’s what you do when succeeding isn’t an option, breaking even only happens rarely, and most of the time, shit his just hitting the fan.