Actual Play – Red Moon Rising (12/14/2013)

DLGM: Bryan Hitchcock
Players: June Garcia (Lola Montez), Basil Benitz (The Lonesome Rider), Marcus Flores (Wild Bill Hickok), Jill Stapleton (Wyatt Earp), Gil Trevizo (Doc Holliday), and Sean Nittner (Calamity Jane).
System: Deadlands
Setting: Deadwood and company.

Warning: Details of the game (spoilers) included below.

Description: It’s 1879. Deadwood is a wild treaty town. Any minute, the Sioux could wipe it out or the U.S. could invade to shut down illegal trade. Violence boils over in the muddy streets and saloons war for the gold of lecherous miners. It’s a boomtown all right. But there’s a Red Moon rising, and whether you’re an outlaw gentleman, a lonesome rider, or a shady lady, the Reaper is coming for you.

The setup

Bryan did a fantastic job setting the game up to offer up a cast of great characters. Each one was described as we had seen them in movies/shows and given a lead in to Deadwood. Character selection went quickly because all the offers were awesome. When I grabbed Calamity Jane, Bryan asked if I was familiar with Jane in the show. “You’re god damn right I am, cocksucker!” Yeah, it was a good fit.

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Introductions

We each introduce out character with a short montage showing them in their element. We saw the Lonesome Rider riding off into an empty field with a deserted town behind him. We saw Jane waking in the pest test, surrounded by the sick, and coughing herself until she found her bottle, and passing out again.

We also saw US and Native American armies riding out…and Death himself, on a pale horse, riding out with this posse. All on their way to Deadwood.

The Reaper is Coming

The game started as the sun was about to set in Deadwood and Bryan told us that a midnight (our time) it would be midnight in Deadwood and that is when the Reaper would arrive. I really like framing mechanisms like this. The GM tells you very up front what the parameters for the game are, and every can set their expectations correctly. For instance, nobody in this game tried to send off a letter, sleep till the morning*, or do anything else that couldn’t happen by midnight, because that’s when the game would end.

The play is the thing

Everyone had different stories, but we had all come to Deadwood aware of the Nameless One’s grave, and the legend of it. As we wandered into Deadwood (or in my case woke from our stupor) we saw that we weren’t the only ones with supernatural inclinations, the whole town had gone to hell.

Some of my favorite player interactions

Marcus played Wild Bill wonderfully and I really enjoyed the relationship we had. He had risen from the dead and Jane just didn’t know what to do about it. On the one hand she loved Bill and would do anything to have him back. On the other, she wasn’t really sure it was him. Marcus did a great job of winning her over. We had several tender moments.

  • When the Nameless One offered her immortality if she would ride with him as a revenant, it was Wild Bill wanting her to be saved that convinced her to turn him down.
  • Toward the end when Doc Holliday was dueling pistols with the Reaper, Bill and Jane went off to find E.B. Farnum and get Bill’s letter back from him. When the finally did (after smoking the Wendigo and sending E.B. packing) Bill took the letter, which was written to his wife, and tore it up. Once again, giving Jane that faint glimmer of hope.
  • As the two armies collided on Deadwood and Bill was fixing to settle in with a drink and a game of cards, it was realizing that Jane had doggedly followed him to his doom that convinced him to high tail it out town.

Basil was a great Lonesome Rider. He wanted to find his lover Rita, and short of that to kills the man that killed her. As it turned out all of those men were in the Gem Saloon and we had a fantastic time killing Al Swearengen, Dan Dority, and the rest of his crew. Basil held the perfect balance of being stoic and resolute, but still firm and clear with his intentions.

Gil and Jill made a fantastic duo of Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp. Their dialog could have been out of Tombstone. It’s possible some of the lines were. In general, they riffed off each other wonderfully. Wyatt wanting peace, and Doc admiring him for his idealism, but painfully pragmatic himself.

In the end though when Death shot him Dead (it’s okay, he killed Death too), and and then he stood back up, that we had the best scene of the game. Wyatt told Doc they weren’t friends any more (on account of Doc now being an undead abomination) and it broke Doc’s heart. He told Wyatt that it didn’t matter, he would still be at the lawman’s side, and as he promised helped Wyatt make it out alive when the cannons started firing into the town.

Favorite Encounters

The game had a non-linear series of encounters that rivaled From Dusk till Dawn. At every turn there was another horrific, violent, deadly, and supernatural evil present, and we were just the plucky heroes to kill it!

The Hanging Judge – He was just hanging everyone that annoyed him, and when anyone questioned that, he’d hang them too. What was clever about this was that he used his social status to belay the inevitable gunslinging. It was a good opportunity for the players to figure out what there characters were all about and where they stood with the law. Once his true colors showed, he ate lead, just like everything else in our path.

The Nameless One – Here was the get out of jail free card many of us were looking for. I liked the offer quite a bit. Immortality of sorts, in exchange for servitude. I had fun seeing who took the offer, who was exempt because of their current undead status, and who turned it down.

Pest Tent Full of Zombies – This was great because I started my opening scene waking up drunk there. The Reverend Smith thought something was very wrong with one of the patients, he was starting to become violent. I cursed him, his mother, and his ungracious attitude, and then rolled my intimidate check. Jane intimidated a zombie into acting respectful, at least for time. Awesome! When we came back of course they had all died and risen and we had a whole zombie infestation. We shot many of then in the head, but others were cut up by bowie knives, or wrestled with in the mud.

Cy Tolliver and the Vampire Whores – This encounter, I’m not really sure why, was actually pretty scary. Maybe it was just the way he described the women on top of corpses in a profane depiction of sex turned into murder, or just that a building filled with screaming vampires intent on sucking us all dry was scary.  We had fun putting knives and lead in them.

The Gem Saloon – Unfortunately Al never got to do much. He was gunned down pretty fast, as was Dan Dority. I enjoyed plaing Jame afraid of Al (and his men) standing at the entrance of the saloon swearing at people, and only drawing down on Jimmy when I saw him go for the gun behind the bar.

The Reaper – Of course Death would come to town, and of course the man to stand up to him was Doc Holliday. The had a pistol duel and both of them smoked the other. Death, because, well, he’s Death. Doc, because of his deal with the Nameless One, which caused that great moment between him and Wyatt above.

E.B Farnum, Wendigo – When we set out to catch E.B. before he was leaving town, it was just Jane and Bill. When he and the others turned into giant Wendigo I was worried. But sure as spit we out-foxed, out-swore, and out-gunned those critters. Shooting one dead, trapping the other beneath a whole wagon of cargo, and finally just scaring the piss out of E.B.

In the end, everything went to hell, and some of it went with it!

Thoughts on this game

As a romp from one encounter to the next, I enjoyed the game a lot. Each fight had something interesting about it that either added an element of fear, uncertainty, or changing tactics to it. We also enjoyed the moments between and had some opportunities for the character’s relationships to develop.

Savage Worlds still leaves me underwhelmed as a system. Here’s the reasons:

  • In a fight the Pass/Fail mechanics produce iterative results (roll damage when you hit, improved how how well you rolled) on success, and null result on a fail.
  • Outside of a fight, it’s measured by degrees of success, but there is still a null result from failure.
    • In both cases I want the fail to progress the story forward and it doesn’t.
  • The damage mechanic doesn’t recognize that the most valuable commodity in action game is the ability to act. Since the first increment of damage anyone took was being staggered (which could cause you to lose an action), hero points were constantly spent to buy that effect off.
    • Nobody wants to wast an action “catching their breath” while their friend is fanning six bullets into a bad guy
  • I can never get a handle on competency in SW. Bryan said that he made our characters awesome, and it a fight they certainly were, but in other cases they seem to just barely get by because of fickle dice. That’s been my experience in the past as well. The fiction presents larger than life gunslingers but the game produces very high wiff-factor. Less so in this game because we were decked out, but still noticeable.

My critiques of the game system included, this was a fun romp through Deadwood. Cocksucker!

Actual Play – Dead World (7/16/2011)

MC: Sean Nittner
Players: Matthew Klein (Al Swerengen the Gentleman), Brent Sturdevant (Loyd the Muscle), Karen Twelves (Rose the Calamity), and Jon Edwards (Roy the Sheriff)
System: Apocalypse World hacked to Deadwood (Dead World)

Billing

Dead World
Game System: Apocalypse World
Game Master: Sean Nittner
Characters Provided: Created in Play
Power Level: Inappropriate for public consumption
Variations: Deadwood inspired setting
Number of Players: 4
A frontier settlement on the edge of nothing California, Scottsburg was not just a home; it was the last refuge for its inhabitants. Criminals, dilatants, and hard working miners that could not find a place anywhere else in the world carved out a small niche there, ever mindful of how tenuous their hold on the town is.

The bounty of Scottsburg, long unnoticed by neighbors in the east, caught the attention of a entrepreneur O. C. Wheelock. His appearance in the town was a swift and painful one; turning private gold miners out of their homes, moving his own employees in and letting them have run of the town. He held the deed to the town and threatened that if his will was contested he would bring in authorities that would not only enforce his claim on the land but make life for Scottsburg’s inhabitants impossible.

Life was further complicated by a pox that has slowly been spreading through the town. Effort to treat and quarantine the sick was an uphill battle, being lost each day in pints of blood and puss, running deeper than the streams of gold beneath them. Welcome to Scottsburg, welcome home.

A bit about the hack

For a while I’ve had a fascination with the show Deadwood. I love how human and weak and miserable the characters are. I love the every son of a bitch has something to redeem them, even if only a little. I like that the people are are desperately holding on to a dream that is always slipping between their fingers like streams of gold without a pan to catch it in.

Shaun Hayworth, Kristin Hayworth and Randy Davenport did a Burning Wheel hack to Deadwood some time ago and from all reports I heard it was great. Burning Wheel is awesome for capturing that real need for something that will drive people into action.

For my tastes though I wanted a lighter system that would still capture the “oomph” that burning wheel offers. I considered Smallville, as it focuses on the player conflicts, but I kept getting drawn back to Apocalypse World. I think in large because Jane is the epitome of the Battle Babe, better conceived that Vincent’s archetype. She brings trouble with her everywhere she goes. Jane is the Battle Babe I can identify with and understand, not the ice cold inhuman figure I think the playbook presents. In honor of Jane, the playbook was named “Calamity”. Perfect.

So, hacking Apoc World to Deadwood seemed like the solution that would give me the game I wanted. Gritty, fluid, tense and mechanics that can keep up with the pace of the narrative.

Most of it was easy. Change a few names, mostly filing off serial numbers. What to do with Weird and opening your brain was tough at first. I floundered a bit with a “make an earnest plea” idea but it was too much like going aggro or manipulating. Thankfully I took my troubles to Story Games and Jonathan Walton gave me the perfect move “Indulge your vices” (see the ugliness of my first thoughts and the beauty of Jonathan’s here: http://story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=14696).

The other hiccup was the Preacher. An obvious choice was the Hocus but the preacher doesn’t have a congregation as such, at least not in the show. So, he started as a Hocus but lost his congregation and eventually got a “mask” of faith to cover his demons. He’s one part hocus, one part faceless and a touch of brainer

The playbooks and moves are all on a PDF here: http://www.sadric.com/download/DW_Playbooks.pdf

Love Letters

I wanted a set of love letters that all focused on how a few pressures on the camp were affecting the different characters, specifically an arson the night before and generally the presence of O.C. Wheelock taking over the camp.

They were adequate to get the game started but didn’t drive the characters together enough. I did this at the last minute and I think they suffered because of it. I’m going to keep working on them till I get them looking like Scott White’s letters (example: http://apocalypse-world.com/forums/index.php?topic=1265.msg7122#msg7122)

Character selection and creation

I told everyone we needed the Gentleman and Matthew immediately stepped up to the plate. Karren nabbed the Calamity and then it was up to Jon and Brent to figure out where to go. Jon thought the story needed a Sheriff to butt heads with the Gentleman and Brent went for the Muscle, to be the Gentleman’s, well, muscle.

Character choices went pretty quickly (though I’d still like to add a list of last names to the playbooks, currently only the preacher has last names) but Hx had it’s usually “Hurh?” moments.

Props

Making the play books took a LONG time, as I had to learn how to use In Design. That said I was still able to cobble together my basic standards of props:

Playbooks: Custom made.
Love letters: Formatted in In Design like the playbooks and sealed with wax (thanks to Karen)
Experience points: Shotgun shells. In the future I’d use some nice poker chips.
Character tents: Also formatted in In Design to match the play books, included bits like Name, look, Hx, Hold and highlighted stats.
Dice: provided but nothing special. In the future I’d like to get some “bones”.
Attire: Thanks to Jack Young and Adan Tejada for dropping off cowboy duds at the Con so I could dress up the part. Pictures coming once I get a hold of them.

The play is the thing

Without going into the specifics of the plot I found that two bits of magic and one semi-dud. Magic happened when two PCs wanted different things out of a situation but respected or feared the other enough to make concessions or when basically hapless NPCs show up with news that complicates life and then struggle desperately not to be fed to the pigs. I had a semi-dud when my warlord came with a show of force making an ultimatum. The results were cool, but the choices began feeling narrower than before and gang level violence erupting felt like a forgone conclusion rather than a desperate option. Perhaps splitting hairs but my warlord didn’t have the oomph I wanted him to bring.

What rocked

PC Relationships is my THING. Especially watching them change, grow and be challenged. I’m not always good at provoking that kind of play, but it’s always what I want. Luckily Apocalypse World is AWESOME at encouraging PC interactions and my group was ALL about it.

Little things really MADE the game. Like the sheriff wrestling the dope dealer off the ledge of a second story balcony into the mud below. Even given the indignity of it all, I never imagined Sheriff Roy flinching. He was just doing his job, messy as it might be.

There were some hard choices, like what do I do with the guy I just kicked so hard in the gut, he isn’t moving anymore? Knowing he worked for the Warlord and he is a new deputy? How much to I let the Sheriff in on what’s going down?

We felt like this game was a great pilot for a campaign. O.C. was killed (VERY killed) and the common understanding was this would bring all manner of hell on the camp. I hadn’t thought to have him die, but as Vincent says, keep your NPCs in the cross hairs.

The relationships between the low status characters (Loyd and Rose) and the high status characters (Al and Roy) were great. Both sets understood their roles and understood that not liking each other had nothing at all to do with how they got along. Very true to the show.

Rose used the move “indulge your vices” at the table, which besides getting her the jingle she needed, drew out one of the other fronts, an NPC making moves on the Gentleman’s establishment. Unexpected and a lot of fun.

What could have improved

I could have done a LOT more with the deputy that got killed by Loyd. Instead of shoe horning in the Doc’s threat (the Sheriff’s wife being raped) I could have had the warlord (who offered up the deputy) demand the Sheriff enforce justice. Everyone saw him kill the deputy in cold blood. O.C Wheelock (the warlord) should have demanded that Roy (the Sheriff) lynch Loyd (the Muscle). That would have been intense!

As mentioned above, my big scene with the posse rolling out felt like playing my hand a bit too soon. Nothing had been done to establish O.C. as any more dangerous than the next cocksucker, so it wasn’t particularly threating when he came around. The good part was the conflict involved all the characters.

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