Actual Play – Fight Fire (4/13/2013)

FateCoreBookCoverGM: Morgan Ellis
Players: Eric Fattig, Eric Lytle. Sean Nittner, Julie Southworth
System: Fate Core
Setting: Fight Fire by Jason Morningstar

I’ve really wanted to see what Fight Fire looks like in play since I first heard about it. A very specific system designed to emulate a very specific thing. When the doc was floating about and I first checked it out I saw that the skill list had changed to just nine skills, things like vent, and extinguish. Similarly the fires themselves were more than just “on fire” but had their own skills like spread, and burn, and had ways that they acted specific to fires themselves.

Jason took the idea of a Fate fractal and really ran with it. Though the core mechanics were the same, you wouldn’t recognize this as looking like any other Fate game. There was also a technical element to it. Certain thing had specific effects in game. For example if you use the vent skill you can either “Vent for Life” to let the smoke out so people can breath, but also gives the fire more oxygen to burn or you can “Vent for Fire” which smothers the fire, but makes smoke worse for anyone inside. These choices matter in this game.

We made our characters, the Roofer who was always late on his alimony check, the Irons who had dreams of making it big as a chef, the veteran Can who was bucking for promotion, and the rookie Vent who was trying to prove herself.  We did some relationships mapping during character creation. The Roof’s ex-wife was the Can’s daughter and all that sort of deliciousness.

Fire is a living thing

That’s a situation aspect on ever fire you fight. It isn’t a single threat you stamp out, it’s a living thing fighting to survive and grow. We started our game with a call “Apartment fire at 1732 Whimett Ave”. When we arrived the thing was a mess. A woman trapped inside, open fires in at least two rooms, and spreading.

We started up following protocol: Vent, Enter, Search (VES). That lasted about five seconds until problems started altering our plan. Irons had forgotten his mask, which was bad. Our Vent ran it to rescue the woman with a broken hip, but consequently wasn’t venting, and Cans sprayed his propellant but the hose wasn’t coming in for him to get more water.

This was generally a result of failed rolls that we push through anyway with significant costs. All grist for the mill. We saved the lady. We put out the fire. We all made it home alive.

At the Firehouse

We realized the game has no skills or mechanics for downtime interactions. I mean, there is the grease skill for getting funding and equipment, etc, but it’s hardly the normal breadth of personal skills that Fate Core normally has. We talked about this at the table, about how we wanted to handle it. Do we skip over personal scenes and go right to the next fire? We pondered if that was the intent of the game. After some discussion we decided we’d use the aspect compel mechanics to push tension and then Morgan framed a scene for each us, dealing with our trouble aspects. It was good stuff. We saw different sides of our characters as our personal lives reared their ugly head.

One fun conclusion we came to was that because we had no skills besides fighting fires, we should take from that the idea that fighting fires is all we’re any good at, and that we’ll generally just fail over and over in life outside the fire. It was a good premise, and watching our characters suffer a bit was lots of fun.

MVA = Many Viscous Aspects

Okay, it really stands for Motor Vehicle Accident, but the way Morgan presented them, as a series of horrific situation aspects we had to overcome, I think my acronym is better.

The MVA was at the North East corner of 2nd Ave and E Houston St. It was terrible, a car wrapped around a power pole, with leaking gas coming out, a sparking power line hanging precariously low, a meth lab in the trunk, a dying driver, noxious fumes, and a meth’d out passenger. JESUS.

The thing about this was, I could believe it. Things are that messed up sometimes. The way Morgan handled this was really just a series of aspects we needed to overcome, but some of them morphed from one problem into another one when we failed rolls. It was good times. It was also a great example of not being able to save everyone. The driver was bleeding out bad and using the jaws of life to get the passenger out, meant him sustaining trauma he simply couldn’t sustain.

My favorite part of this particular “fire” was when Morgan compelled my “Acting Lieutenant” aspect to say that the city didn’t have my name on file to authorize cutting the power to the power lines… so Irons had to cut up the box and do it for us. That was brilliant!

Thoughts on this game

It was still not in the printing stage when we played, which means after I got to talk to Jason and Brian Engard (the system developer) and Brian added in a bit about how to handle play at the Firehouse, which I think is a great addition.

The game was a ton of fun and I think would be more fun the more acclimated we became to the implicit constraints (moving between two rooms with the door open still isn’t a trivial action if the room is filled with blinding smoke and/or a raging fire).

Morgan, as always, was stellar. He’s a very pro-player-fun GM and it shows every time he runs. Great time.

Lytle… how could you let the captain go like that? For shame.


Actual Play – Camelot Trigger (4/13/2013)

FateCoreBookCoverGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Mike Bogan, June Garcia, Tyson Fultz, and Eric Fattig
System: Fate Core
Setting: Camelot Trigger by Rob Weiland

FateCon was this Saturday the 13th at EndGame. Two sessions of nothing but Fate games. Good times. Since I very first got my eyes on Camelot Trigger, I’ve been wanting to run it, and this was my first chance to do so.

I’m working for Evil Hat now as project manager, so I get to see a lot of of the products as they are being produced. That is awesome, but it also means I have a lot of exposure to them not as a gamer, but as a project manager. It was really great to play Fate Core and enjoy it as a gamer again.

The Camelot Trigger setting is one of Arthurian knights, along side giant mecha robots. As I read it, it is extremely anachronistic, which I love. I imagined the people drinking from pewter chalices, and talking about handmaidens and “thine honour” right up until the point of starting the joust, when they would, you know, jump into an 80′ mecha and thrash each other with them.

I was recently having a discussion about game prep, and I boiled my prep (and execution) of games into five steps. So I’m going to give them here, and show how they were used in this game.

  1. Give players some setting and character expectations (like “You’re knights an Arthurian setting, but you also fly Mecha armor!”)
  2. Ask them questions to flesh out their characters and the world (“is your marriage a loveless one?” along side “what are the alien invaders, and why are they a threat to humankind?”)
  3. Present them with a threat that we have established (in step 1 or 2) that they care about AND that they can’t ignore.
  4. Let them respond as they will, offering opportunities to be awesome, and opposition (usually crafted by them) until there is a natural lull…
  5. Hammer them with #3 again but this time a different threat. Some kind of twist on the original, or something else we established (in step 1 or 2, or through play) that they care about.

It was awesome, as confirmed by my tweets!

Step 1. Put a whole in the box… wait, wrong list.

Step 1. Establish the character and setting expectations. I told the players about my rough ideas for the setting, and the characters that I had started. I told them together we would finish off both the world and character creation. Here were the characters, their situation, and their Armour (mecha).

ElaineElaine the Bold (hee, in bold)

Elaine started (in my hands) as a cross between Theon Greyjoy and Brienne of Tarth. She was a hostage in house Andell after the War of Titans,but had never truly been accepted into the family.

Her process in battle was undisputed, however. She and her house Stuart “Gor-Tank” were a menace on the battle field. And yeah, that gorilla mecha, that’s totally for Fred Hicks.


CorrynSir Corryn Andell, son of Duke Orion.

Corryn is an exceptional student of the artificial intelligence MerLN, and has crafted an amazing transforming Armour with that knowledge, but he’s doomed by his own passions.

Corryn is married to the Lady Merrowyn, but in love with his older “sister” Elaine. I imagined him as a Arthur/Lancelot figure in terms of his love plots, full of duty to his house to be a good husband, but secretly (or not so secretly) loving his sister. There is of course a bit of Jamie Lannister there as well, you know loving his sister, but in this case it wouldn’t be incest (she’s a hostage, not blood related) but would certainly be forbidden.


MerrowynLady Merrowyn

I just love that name, Marrowyn. Not sure why but it conveys a lot of confidence and clear-minded focus to me. Merryn of house Ferrun has just married Corryn, providing military might from her family to secure the house Andell’s legitimate rule, and been made a future duchess in the process.

The political pressure of representing now two houses, however, is unbelievable.


MelinoreSir Melinore

A justice of the regent (i.e. lawman), sir Mellinore is the officiator of many ceremonies as well as judge of disputes. He didn’t get this position on his own however, he’s deep in debt to house Stuart (Elaine’s house, and rival of the Andell’s).


Step 2. Asking questions about the world and the characters

I went around the table asking questions to figure our more of what was going on in the world and we learned of the threats, both alien and personal.

We started with the outside threat. The invaders are a sentient virus, called the Emergent (name taken from the default setting since we couldn’t think of another) that corrode and corrupt armor. Once they have captured armour, the re-design it in their own horrific image.

Threat: Emergent – Sentient Virus

Closer to home, I said that the first Emergent attack happened long enough ago old rivalries which were temporally forgotten have now reared their ugly head. Who on earth was a threat?

We started with a rival house (always a good start in my book), house Mordirgaine. Yeah, I liked that name. Their beef with house Andell, Lady Rowena Mordrigane was supposed to marry Corryn, but he called it off… and was now married to Merrowyn of house Ferrun. That gave the house plenty of reason to have a mad hate on all of the player characters.

Threat: Rival house Mordrigaine


The characters started half-baked, with a great, good, and fair skill, as well as a high concept and trouble. The rest of the skills slots and their other aspects were left open, however, to be filled in during world creation and in play.

We started with Corryn, and found out that he had attempt to best the Space Apes of the Moon in a tournament to prove that Humans were the greatest Armour pilots in the solar system. Space apes? Awesome.

Melinore though, knew this could not pass. if the Andell’s bested the Space Apes, it would create an untenable political situation for earth. To prevent him from competing Melinore sabotaged Corryn’s Armour… making it inoperable.

Everything was accounted for except Elaine. Knowing Corryn could not fight in his Armour, she gave up her own, the House Stuart Gor-Tank (defeated by house Andell, mind you) to Corryn so he could compete… which he did in her name… political disaster!

Some great aspects came out of that.

Elaine: Corryn wins at my expense
Corryn: I think I’m subtle, I’m not.
Melinore: Deception is a necessary part of valor.

More quests

Normally, if you wanted everyone to have their stories tied together each character would have an adventure (which I was calling quests) and two other characters wold aid or complicate it. In this case, we already had enough connections backed into the characters, that I only called for two quests, you know, so we could get to the playing!

This time we started with Merrowyn… and the rescue of her younger sister, who had been whisked away by dastardly rogues, only she wasn’t kidnapped, she was running away from home.

As we got to talking about them, these rogues in their smaller “peasant” armor, how they had become a roving menace in the land and thus created a new problem for the realm:

Threat: Dastardly rogues in “Peasant” Armour

With that…we started the action!

Step 3. Present a threat they care about and that they can’t ignore.

I asked everyone how they felt about starting the game at the nuptials. The big tournament that happened right after the wedding. It seems like a good time, one rife with potential problems. They were down so I opened a scene with Lady Elaine trouncing a rival opponent (in Armour of course) at the tournament… the rival opponent was Rowena Mordrigaine, who cried foul!

Elaine was challenged as a cheater. Melinore had to adjudicate the claim. Merrowyn and Corry wanted to keep peace on the their wedding day. Boom!

Step 4. Let them respond as they will.

This ended up being even more awesome than I expected. Elaine and Rowena got in a duel (one with swords instead of Armour). Melinore officiated it, cheated and declared Elaine the winner without blood drawn.

We got a good chance to engage the mechanics here. We started with a couple very common overcome rolls. Melinore didn’t want a duel to happen in the first place, he failed the roll and opted not to pay the significant cost (of becoming personally implicated in favoritism) and instead allowed the duel to proceed, with him officiating. Merrowyn requested that no-one die in her wedding day, and succeeded on that, setting the terms to first blood only.

To handle the actual duel, I opted for a challenge. It was early in the game, and with only one PC involved, I didn’t want to jump into full blow conflict. Plus, since our goal wasn’t death, but first blow, a challenge seemed to be the best choice anyway. Melinore started it off by cheating. He drew his own sword and drew a circle in the sand, but using the stunt Thumbs on the Scales of Justice he created an advantage “smudge in the circle” and declared that first blood or leaving the circle would disqualify you.

Based on that I set the challenge rolls as a Daunt roll to brag of your prowess in battle, a zeal roll to stay inside the circle, and finally a melee roll to either draw first blood or force the other contestant out. The first two had passive resistance, the last one was contested. Elaine won with flying colors, but the melee roll (which was by fare the toughest) was rigged by Melinore, who pointed to the smudge and called that Rowena had stepped out of the circle. She was furious… and there was much rejoicing.

Corryn saved the day (which could not end with a hostage besting a great house) but including yet another Armour duel, between himself and Sir Alric of house Mordrigaine (Rowena’s older brother) who trounced him mightily (a significant cost to his failed Intrigue roll).

We continued to the feast afterwards, which was a blast. We had the situation aspect “Gossip flowing like wine.” We found out that Merrowyn really didn’t have a problem with Elaine and Corryn sharing affections as she “preferred the fairer sex” and to keep Elaine from revealing that, she offered her a position as one of her handmaidens.

Corryn spotted Rowena and her brother Alric plotting and then followed him into the wine cellar where he caught him poisoning a bottle that was to be served to Merrowyn… which turned into a great chase through the keep!

Melinore got wind from a deputy that during the feast several security systems had been disabled. Perhaps it was routine maintenance, but something seemed amiss. He followed the trail all the way to the treasury room, where unsurprisingly he overheard the dastardly rogues trying to lighten the financial load of house Andell. Melinore was brilliant, and with clever use of his unoccupied but threatening looking Armour, convinced these dastardly rogues that they would do far better to be paid deputies of him than criminals locked in chains.

Step 5. Present another threat and repeat

Just as things reached a point of uncertainty between the rogues and Melinore, Alric and Corryn, and Merrowyn and Elaine, that’s when the trumpets sounded! The Emergent were attacking!

This was great. Personal rivalries set aside, the Emergent had identified a high concentration of their enemies in one place, and decided to make a large scale assault!

We had some mad dashes to get into armor, followed by a gigantic explosion of lasers, missiles, and Ferrun scythes. The battle had four zone, lots of combatants, and plenty of damage to spread around.

The giant Medusa headed mega-armour and dozens of snakes attacked from above, while two corrupted Emergent, one the corrupted armor of Melinore and Merrowyn’s little sister, erupted from the ground. After a valiant battle (read: conflict) the Emergent were defeated and Camelot was saved!

Pic of the game afterwards


Thoughts on the game

One of the recurring quotes in the game, which I thought was pretty awesome: “Worst wedding day ever!”

Sometime in the middle of the game, I asked “I wonder what happens to the pilots of the Armour when it’s corrupted by the Emergent?” I pushed in the end (the the disappearing sister’s armor showing up all corrupted) to find out. We got cut off on time, but that would have been a cool way to open the next session, with the armour popping open.

I was really excited about the Rob’s Camelot Trigger. The setting is a ton of fun (knights + mecha) and the mechanics are really fun. I didn’t talk about them much here, but each suit of Armour gives you five locations (things like head, chest, arms, legs, etc) that each either grant the user a Great [+4] skill, or a stunt. And these are always flavored with the technology, so a head unit might have an Advanced Targeting system (Notice, or in this game, Mark, +4), legs could have or Retro-Rocket Thrusters (granting +2 on Zeal (Athletics) rolls to move between zones). Then, when the armor is damaged, instead of taking normal consequences or stress, the wearer can shut down systems (out of fuel, damaged, overheating, offline, etc). I love this system, because it covers both how the pilot is tougher in armor (they have 5 whole systems they can shut down in place of taking stress or consequences) and allows things to break all over the place, which is fantastic.

I really, really enjoyed Fate Core. Fate Core is is THE Fate game for me. The success at a cost and the boosts really work for my style of play.

Actual Play-ish – “Ghosthorse: It’s in the Charter” (4/14/2012)

Bullshitters: Carl Rigney, Karen Twelves, and Sean Nittner
System: Monsterhearts (sort of)

After our afternoon session of Tiend High School Carl, Karen, and I went out for a nice relaxing dinner at Breads of India. I told them both of my frustrations with my character and Karen added another thought. In a four hour game, just having the characters in the same vicinity isn’t really enough to bring them together. It’s a problem I’ve hand in DRYH games as well. Just because we all have super powers and are next to each other doesn’t mean we care about each other.

Monsterhearts addresses this in an abstract way with strings, mechanical leverage we have over each other, but if those strings aren’t expanded upon, it means that “although we both lie close together, we feel miles apart inside” (thank you Poison). Our characters were passably interested in each other (really two of us were obsessed with the vampire and that was enough) but we didn’t have any tight bond, like say, you would in a band…

For the next two hours we sat around in the EndGame lobby bullshitting as though we were members of the band. Character roles were pretty ambiguous, I played at least two characters, we had mention of several NPCs, and it took us a while to figure out who/what Carl was. This is what I assertained by the end:

Carl – Our mortal band member who now had my guitar. He wanted to sleep with chicks in the crowd and liked antagonizing all of his monster band members.

Karen – Our werewolf drummer who would play 27 days straight and then take a break due to the moon. There were inferences that wolfing out and menstruating were related. At the time of play, we were supposed to go on any minute but never made it out the stage and she was increasingly anxious that she might wolf out during the concert. We assured her she could play from inside a cage if need be. She was also obsessed with charters and kept making new ones after the old ones got torn apart (often by her).

Sean – I started as the Ghoul manager hungry for fame and money.  I think I was a giant ass hat but I didn’t stay in that character for long. Soon I moved to the Ghost who used to be the guitar player but couldn’t any more on account of having no fingers, on account of being dead… for which Carl teased me incessantly about. I kept trying to get Carl to put his hands in machines so I could possess the machine to cut said fingers off. It never worked. What I did do though, was continually tell Carl to write it down when we had a good idea. “Write that shit down. It’ll be a great song.” The idea finally came around that we should murder a horse so I could ride a ghost horse on stage during concert. Nobody was willing to do it (fucking ingrates) but we did like the name “Ghosthorse” and that eventually

NPCs of note: Ted was a vampire who spent all his time in the trunk of the car masturbating under a blanket. He said that he wouldn’t come out because of the sun, but none of us were buying it. We also had an infernal that insisted the charters all be signed with bloody thumb prints. We teased both of them incessantly as well.

Thoughts on this game

Well, it wasn’t really a game. I mean we didn’t roll any dice or use character sheets. It was just taking tropes from Mosterhearts and playing them up. But damn did we have a good time.

I can’t imagine many games where kind of play would ever happen. Maybe XXXXtreme Street Luge or The Committee for the Exploration of Mysteries, where the game is played by recouting the action, and thus is mostly dudes sitting around bullshitting (what it’s actually called in XSL), but still, I’m not sure that in a traditional game people wouldn’t want more action to progress. Never quite getting to the concert might not satisfy your typical gamer.

This Fiasco playset is begging to be created. Monsterhearts High School Rock Band anyone?

We did discuss how having a social construct that binds the characters together (a military unit, a band, employees assigned to the same project, Watchdogs, family, etc) does two really good things:

  1. It totally removes the “how do our characters know each other” and “why would we do stuff together” questions.
  2. It allows the characters to push very hard on each other, without fear of breaking the bonds that hold them together. You can hate your sibling but they are still your sibling, etc. Also, it means you can have emotional relationships that have nothing to do with the professions ones like “I work with you, but I hate you because you stole my girlfriend”.

Being in High School almost does this, but I think the characters need a bit more. Having strings helps as well, but  I still think the question of “why are your characters stuck together” is worth asking before the game starts.


Actual Play – Tiend High School (4/14/2012)

GM: Carl Rigney
Players: Morgan Ellis, Lisa Marcus, Karen Twelves, and Sean Nittner
System: Monsterhearts

For any buried under a rock like me, Monsterhearts is Joe Mcdaldno game of sexy teenage monsters and all their collective angst. It’s built on the Apocalypse World engine, but it is well enough developed that I don’t think of it as a hack. Rather another creation using many of the same first principals that Vincent employed.

When I signed up for this game, I misread the title. Which is incredibly odd since I was in charge of the scheduling for the minicon, so I probably only looked at the game title about fifty times. But like so many things, first impressions matter most, and when I first read “Trend” High School, I got images of Treandstone from Bourne and though we were going to be in a school for the “would be abducted and trained against their will secret agents”. Interestingly, I wasn’t completely wrong. There were students at the school against their will, but the moment Carl said “Tiend” I realized I had misread and misunderstood.  Replace agent with “Fey” and origination they are indentured to with “Hell” and I was set!

The premise, was however that every seven years seven fey were sent to hell to abide by some pact between the Fey and the Infernal. Hell of course, was high school, and we were the attendees.

Our characters were a distant vampire, a curious witch, a desperately trying to be human Hollow, and a love struck Infernal. One important NPC (beside the fey) was also created. Monsieur Voltaire was our french teacher that insisted students always speak (even when he was teaching Homeroom) in French.  He was also the devil and the power that fueled my infernal.

We did Vampire Diaries/True Blood/Buffy-esk drama throughout the game. Our characters all longed for something, and, as fitting the game, someone else had to lose something for us to get it.

Thoughts on this game

There were some mechanical bits that I really like and I’m going to consider steeling for Apocalypse Glalatica.

  • Conditions: A mechanical effect to cover all the wacky “conditions” that effect our the characters. We ended up with “In Trouble”, “Terrified” and “Fatigued” though I can imagine many more.  For Galactica, I’d might use these to represent problems with the Fleet/Battlestar: Insubordinate, Paranoid, Afraid, Hungry, etc. Worth much musing.
  • Joe replaced Hx with Strings. Strings are built in some of the same ways bonds/Hx are in that you start with some strings on each other based off descriptors at the start. My character (the infernal) was in love with the vampire, so I gave him two strings at start. Instructions for how to do this are in the playbooks and many of the moves create ore remove strings. Strings are then spent to affect the other person: aiding, hindering,  or manipulating them. I like the idea of having strings on people for all kinds of reasons (healthy and un): because they care about you, because you are friends, because you have blackmail on them, because you seduced them, because of a lie, etc. It seems like there are a lot of moves in AW that allow you do affect people in different ways, Strings consolidates those in a pretty cool way. I’m down for it.

My character was, story/character development speaking, a total one trick pony. She was in love with the vampire the entire game and all she did was plot to make him love her too. It was lame. Really, really lame. First off, she never changed (that was bad). Second, she didn’t escalate or change tactics (which was worse). I’m not sure exactly why I did this except that I was myself stuck in a rut. I wasn’t thinking of any creative alternatives and so, just kept trying the same thing. In different contexts, of course, but it always led to me getting a string on Morgan’s character and then using it to offer him XP to have sex with me. The major problem with this is that Vampires sex move specifically benefits them if they turn down another’s advances. So… mechanically and in the fiction, his best option was to keep blocking. Now, in the real world, people keep trying the same thing over and over hoping one day it will work (how many of us play the lotto). But in a game if you do the same thing twice without changing, it’s already old. I was very disappointed with my performance in this game.

Despite the repetitive behavior in game, I felt like I added are really awesome element to the story before game. Monsieur Voltaire was awesome. Not only because he made my “dark power” someone that every could (and had to) interact with, but he also insisted everyone speak in French… which was a killer affectation for an NPC.

Karen’s Hollow had this awesome move at the very end. Her darkest self was exposed and she needed others to understand the isolation she felt. So she took my character and trapped her in a locker and laughed while I screamed in terror. It was pretty bad ass.  I realize that I could have made the game much better if that moment of terror changed my character and instead of chasing after the vampire (again), I turned to her, addressed the horror she just inflected on me and said “hey, that was pretty awful. I’ve done some awful stuff too. Want to be friends?” In fact, I like that ending so much more Carl suggested I just say that’s how it was. A better story for sure.

Bad ass cool moments:

  • Morgan’s vampire sucking a Fey dry and tasting Sunlight
  • Karen’s hollow “hunting” with the vampire but accidentally killing the fey, and it’s blood tasting like ashes in the vampire’s mouth.
  • Lisa’s witch casting “wither” on the hollow to stop her from tormenting the infernal and our horrible descriptiion of that hex.
  • Really fun conversation in French with the Fey. “You have parents? Is that what most people have?”

I’m very impressed with this game and I want to play it A LOT more.

Actual Play – Damascus Falls (4/14/2012)

Apocalypse GalacticaGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Morgan Ellis, June Garcia, Michael Garcia, and Jon Edwards
System: Apocalypse World
Hack: Apocalypse Galactica

Not two days after I was running AG for Matt Klein and crew, I was back in Oakland running it again for the EndGame minicon. Much to my surprise we had nearly the same cast pick a the previous game… and just when I was going to give up on the Visionary, the playbook gets picked two games in a row!


Morgan Ellis – President Asker. “Action” president. A labor union representative who was voted into to office by the Quorum. He was a man of the people and not at all afraid to roll up his sleeves.

June Garcia – Zoe, an Engineer just assigned to the Argonaut. She was the god daughter of president Asker and despised asking him for help. Despite many, many claims that she was an Cylon herself, Zoe was loyal to the fleet until the end.

Michael Garcia – Adon, the Visionary who found purpose in following the “One True God” of the Cylons, despite the fact that he had never met one. He had been spreading his pirate message across the Fleet’s com… drawing others to his faith.

Jon Edwards – Rear admiral John Holden. A young (30-something) Commander that was put in charge of the Argonaut (and the Colonial Navy) to lead the resistance when the Cylons attacked the colonies. Many, many other Commanders wanted this role, but he was the shining star that would defeat the toasters. Instead, they destroyed civilization.

Buried under work

More so than I think ever before, the Commander was buried under damage reports. Generally speaking the game starts with an overwhelming sense of “everything is out of control”. Once the characters struggle for a bit with that though, the pace slows a bit, time is elided, and a frail semblance of calm drifts through the fleet. THAT DID NOT HAPPEN. This game, Admiral Holden and President Asker were constantly putting out fires. Enough so that I wonder if I packed the love letters with too many problems.

I did rather enjoy the moment when the comm officer told the admiral that despite all the other fires he was putting out there were two that now rose to the top. The best engineer on the ship had been put in the bring by the XO for treason and one the ships in the fleet was mutinying. I liked this so much I almost want to print out some card stock cards (with cut corners of course) that just say “Damage Report” and then fill those out and bury the Commander in them.  Hmmm..

Using Conditions

I’ve had several instances now of the Commander using the CIC move to remove a condition from the Battlestar. Having now played Monsterhearts, I’m really wondering if I should start using conditions to a more mechanical effect of being someone +1 (or -1) on a roll of if a condition applies, and putting conditions on the character sheet. Is this stacking too many mechanics onto the game, or would it help clarify (and consolidate) all the conditions that end up cropping up?

Worth note, most of the conditions are not on the characters themselves, but on the fleet, battlestar, follower, etc. For example: insubordination, paranoia, guns offline, etc. Also of note, some of them were designed specifically to have narrative consequences. Others just flavor conflicts. I want it to be clear that if a ship’s FTL drives are down, it cannot jump with the fleet. At all.

Finally, there are several positive conditions, like +loyal, +fearless, etc. I wonder if those should trump negative conditions, give a +1 on a roll, etc. Also how to mark them so they are clear on the character sheet? Worth pondering.

Crisis Clocks

The crisis clocks were used in full swing this game. Security, morale and eventually even hunger got up there throughout the game. I was really happy to have those as a mechanical reinforcement of how bad things are getting, but I do think they add another layer to the game that is perhaps too much for the players to handle. In Apocalypse World, fronts are managed by the MC. In Galatica I gave crisis to the President. I also gave her a move to affect the crisis clocks directly. In retrospect I think that is too abstract. I’m going to pull the crisis clocks back to the MC side of the table, and changes the President’s moves.


Morgan noted a few times that he was actually buried in paperwork. His playbook, love letter, the fleet playbook (including population) and the crisis clocks. While I do plan on removing the crisis clocks, I want to keep the population (this is an important thing), but I want to remove the “doing math” part of the game, as well as the flood of paperwork.

Action President

President Asker was the first ever president I’ve seen in the game that was elected rather than taking the Presidency because of previous office. He was a labor union representative and seen as a capable leader and organizer. The Quorum of Twelve, still intact after the fall, elected him as president because of that. This created a really cool effect becuse now that the Quorum was under house arrest, he really felt the pressure to serve the people that put him in power. To do so, he got personally involved and when manpower was needed to repair the FTL drive on the Condor, he personally was there, rolling up his sleeves to do so, which put him RIGHT in the line of fire…

Putting someone in a spot

As the result of some miss, or 7-9 result I told Morgan straight up that I was going to put the president in a place where he might have to die to save the fleet. Probably tipping my hand a bit too much at first, but I wanted to make sure he was on board with that risk. It took some time to figure out how to do it but eventually it was the president and visionary alone on the Miya San, getting the last of the parts off, when the Cylons appeared. Right then the ship was hit and they were “acting under fire” to get out. The president flinched an was trapped under a heavy cargo container. Adon, the visionary, tool now a the opportunity to reveal himself as a Cylon and tell the president he could live, IF he spread the word of the One True God.

“Sure, yeah, whatever you say.” Adon then picked up the giant cargo container himself and tossed it off the president, so he could go back to the fleet and spread his word.

Visionary Cylons

Michael announced towards the end of the game that he was fully planning to reveal as a cylon, but first wanted to gather his followers around him and incite them to preach to the rest of the fleet about the One True God. I was miraculously impressed with how well he did this. Not only did his people carry on is word after he died (he stayed on the Miya San when she blew of and destroyed the Cylon attack force), he also gained a hold over both the president and the commander. In the Commander’s case, he removed some of his problems, helped keep people under order and proved himself an asset. In the president’s though, he saved his life.  Not something that could be dismissed easily.

Too much to fix

Just as I was satisfied with the commander being under the gun, I loved that the Enginner was constantly playing catch up to put out fires. This was only FURTHER exacerbated by being accused of being a Cylon and being thrown in the brig by the XO. Damn, if Zoe didn’t just get the worst luck ever. To make matter’s worse, the only way she got out was because her godfather (President Asker) pushed hard for her release (to the point of assaulting the XO to make his point). The tension there of needing the engineer to fix things but not being sure if she can be trusted was awesome. It was further complicated by the uncomfortable family dynamics!

Thoughts on this game

As noted above, I want to work on the president and give the playbook more immediate “do these cool things”  concrete moves and less “shift the status quo” abstract moves. This will also mean taking back the crisis clocks to the MC’s responsibility. I’m down with that.

Part of the problem with having too many problems for the commander and the engineer to deal with is that means having so many things for me, the MC to keep in mind. I want to keep that same sense of overwhelming urgency and of difficult decisions, without actually having to personally (or have the players) keep track of so much stuff. Gotta work on this.



Actual Play – Star Wars: Episode II – Bad Ass Mother Fuckers (1/29/2012)

GM: Morgan Ellis
Players: Karen Twelves, Duane O’Brian, Eric Zimmerman, Sean Nittner
System: FATE
Setting: Star Wars – Clone Wars Era

Morgan started off this game by setting the mood, and he did a really good job. He told us “we’re not playing angsty teenagers stuck on water farms, we’re playing bad ass Jedi, leading an army of clones to war. We’re doing lightsaber-fu, force backflips, and blowing up death stars. You’re all Jedi and you’re all BAD ASS!” (or something to that effect, I’m paraphrasing here).

And he didn’t lie. None of the characters presented were anything but kick ass. The archetypes presented were:

  • Reckless Pilot
  • Jedi Scout (read ninja)
  • Jedi Mystic (read samurai)
  • Jedi General

Originally, before I knew we were all playing Jedi, I was excited about the idea of playing a clone, but after he laid out that bevy of bad assery I was more than content to pick up the general and play my “leader of men” aspect to the hilt.

We got all our characters and like most FATE games, they were half baked. They had most of their aspects, but only the top three skills. For me it was Leadership (+5), Blaster (+4) and The Force (+4). Lightsaber was originally on there at +4 but then we realized I didn’t have Blaster and one of my aspects was “Trusty Blaster” so I dropped Lightsaber down (assuming there would be plenty of other awesome lightsaber-fu from the others, and I wasn’t wrong).

Morgan was pretty fast as lose with the use of skills, I used Leadership as an attack (sending clones in to blow shit up) in social conflicts (inspiring people) and as a block (via my Defensive Tactics stunt). So overall, Morgan was telling us, I expect your characters to bring the awesome.

One of the first things we had to do was add a final aspect to our characters, on that tied us to the dark side in some way. This ended up being the aspect that tied us all together. I stated it off with “My Brother, Sith Lord.”  It’s a classic, but this seemed like a classic kind of game. I was a middle aged general, of course my brother was a Jedi who turned to the Dark Side.

Eric picked up that ball and ran with it. She had fallen in love with him “My Husband, Sith Lord.” Duane followed right after, he was playing her brother, who had been trained by “uncle Ki”, now “Darth Dire.” Finally Karen finished it off. She was the master Jedi Duelist, so off course it was her that had to face him and took of his arm in her “Battle Rage”.

Nice, we all had Dark Side traits, which Morgan used frequently as compels, allowed us to draw on the Dark Side just like Sponsored Magic works in Dresden Files (YS 183,287). We all had white chips to start with (Force Points) and most of us picked up a couple red (Dark Side Points) ones along the way.

I make Gai-Wan Katarn (my character) a total caricature of Samuel L Jackson as both Nick Fury (including the eye patch) and Jules Winnfield (Pulp Fiction) plus a little bit of Hannibal from the A-Team.  And yes, the beautiful symmetry that Liam Neeson played both Hannibal and Qui-Gon Jinn the Jedi Master, was in the back of my mind. He was a cigar smoking, blaster at the ready, bad ass. So much fun!

 The game is the thing

Morgan clearly wasted to posit a macro level situation, i.e. what is going on in the universe at large, and then let us carve out our own story to tell in that space. We’re in the clone wars, Jedi and Clones vs. Droids.  This was pre Order 66, but it was looming in our heads (part of the reason I wanted to keep the clones with us all the time).

We started on a muddy swamp planet fighting an army of droids, and of course, stealing the location of their secret base. As our ninja Duane’s character produced the stolen information after the epic fight against a droid juggernaut and from that we “made a plan” to go destroy it. The quotes were there because in classic FATE fashion, we made a plan by making some declarations, creating some scene aspects and then narrating ourselves breaking in (while leaving the bulk of our forces on the mud planet Ordo Martel so as to not raise suspicion of our small elite force making the attack).

We broke in, stole uniforms, hacked systems and made it all the way to the power core (on a gas cloud planet filled with lightning storms) and were just about to blow it sky high when of course, Darth Dire and his companions dropped down on us for the final show down. I stole the kill on Dire and took him out with a social attack “There is still good in you”. Much to the chagrin of Karen’s fully Battle Raging duelist “You stopped me from killing him! Again!!!”

Thought on the game

If I haven’t made it clear already, Morgan did a fantastic job of making us all kick ass Jedi. There wasn’t as single one of us who wasn’t both an action hero AND a likeable character.

The way Dark Side points worked in the game seemed a little hinky. Maybe I just wasn’t paying enough attention but it seemed that when someone was tempted by the Dark Side it was the equivlant of invoking an aspect (+2 or Reroll) AND they got a Dark Side point  they could spend later to do the same, so it was almost like getting two FATE chips (in this game Force Points), one to spend now and one to spend later. I didn’t get the impression that that was the intention, but it worked okay. Also, after a scene the Jedi has to roll resolve against an attack from the Dark Side based on the number of points, but also that wasn’t clear if it was point earned, spent, or both.

The result being a mental attack, which could presumably turn you to the Dark Side if it took you out, or at the least give you consequences, which I quite liked. What this meant is that theoretically if you were losing a fight, you could call on all kinds of Dark Side power to win it, but then mechanically speaking, most likely you would be taken out by the Dark Side after the fight and be turned, which I think is pretty damn brilliant.

Speaking of attacks, stress, etc. Morgan decided on the first time we got hurt that fuck it, let’s not use stress, let’s just go straight to consequences, which I think, given the extreme power of our characters, was a great call. We didn’t get hit often, so when we did, it had to count. This also made the final fight go a lot faster, as the same applied to the NPCs.  So, in general, I was delighted with this resolution.  As a side note, I think (but I’m not sure) that the way he handed the droid juggernaut was just to give it extra consequences (maybe two minor, two major, one severe, or something like that), which I also think is a brilliant way to make something “tough” and still give the players the sense that they are being effective when they hit it. Much more so that just doing stress.

Also, Morgan didn’t use any weapon or armor rules, which heightened the  SotC feeling that tightsabers heavy blasters and thermal detonators were all just there for flavor, what won the fight was the heroes. I liked this very much.

The Force was handled a little like “Mysteries” in SotC. We could use it for all kinds of little cool things  like summoning our lightsabers to us, sensing each other’s presence, etc. but if we wanted to use it for something crazy bad ass like lifting ships out of bogs, sensing things across the galaxy, or parrying blaster bolts back at the shooter, we need a stunt for it. And the stunts were simple, they read “use The Force to do XYZ.” Mine was a “Battle Meditation” which allowed me to roll the force to create fragile +3 aspects for my allies. Originally I conceived of it as a strictly mental thing, like as a general I had a mental map of the battlefield and could convey that to my allies, but it totally wasn’t flashy enough for the feeling of this game, so instead it was using the force to drop a thermal detonator in a key location and give them all an entry for attack, or something like that.  I was happy.

Morgan started each scene with a list of five or six aspects that he allowed us to tag for free. We of course created a ton of aspects ourselves and like most FATE games, the table was covered with aspects throughout the game. I think giving us a free tag on the aspects was very generous but I think it was also a great way to encourage us to use our environment. Much like stunt dice from Exalted (1 for cool description, 2 if it uses the environment, 3 if it makes everyone say “aww shittt”) I really liked that we were more prone to use the cool stuff around us because frankly it was free.

On that note however, Morgan was really good about not accepting “I tag that aspect for +2” he made us all lead with the fiction asking what about that aspect helped. I think in FATE, because it can get very number crunchy it can sometimes be easy to lose track of the fiction and reduce our narration to simple game mechanics, e.g. “I attack him”. Morgan was great about keeping us on track.

The player camaraderie was really great at this table. I’m all for players getting into each other’s shit, messing with one another, but at this table the vibe was very Three Musketeers… hmm, who was our D’Artagnan?  I bid for Athos! It wasn’t until the very end when we were fighting Darth Dire, who was very important to all of us, that we ever came into conflict with each other. And the cool thing about this was that it meant we could all play around with the Dark Side without any of us being the other’s keeper. It someone turned, there was nothing any of us were going to be able to do about it.

The game was tight. No lose ends, unexplained plots, or superfluous NPCs (except maybe Dire’s buddies, but that was cool, they were just interesting and tough mooks). Dire ended it (having turned back to good) with a warning “beware the chancellor!” Awesome.

Actual Play – Apocalypse Galactica (1/28/2012)

Apocalypse GalacticaGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Meilin, Sean, Kristin, Ezra
System: Apocalypse World
Hack: Apocalypse Galactica

I should really start calling this scenario something besides “Apocalypse Galactica”. I mean, I intended to name the first game after the hack itself, like some bands name their first album after then band, but you know, it just causes some unnecessary confusion.

Carl Rigney says I should run this game until the number of play hours exceeds the time spent to create it. Well, if you’re interested in playing the game, good news. By following Carl’s logic I have to run it at least another 28 times to catch up. Still, I’m awfully proud of this game.  It works very, very well.

Last time I ran this scenario was at the October Minicon.  Since then I’ve cleaned up Hx a lot, tightened up the playbooks, created more (total of 13 now), worked on the layout and typography, and added another love letter (the Activist has joined the game).  I also reviewed the love letters and tried to tighten them down by removing extraneous NPCs and trying to point the PCs at each other’s throats more.

Overall I think the scenario still has WAY too much going on. It was meant to simulate the feeling of never ending disasters that the show presents (and Apocalypse World normally has) but I always forget how much crazy fallout comes out of play. The fact of the matter is that Apocalypse World works too well at creating trouble, and I’m still overcompensating by loading up the love letters.

In two runs though, I’ve definitely seen which scenarios are really hot and which ones are avoided or just don’t come up much in play. My thought is right now the game just has too much, so rather than create more, I’m going to leave in the winners and trim out the duds. We’ll see how it plays after that and keep honing away. I’m prepared to run this at least three more times (two for private parties that have asked me to run it for their group and once more at a minicon, or Good Omens Con).

The game had a minor snag in that one player wasn’t able to make it on time. Thankfully we left the seat open. The Commander (in this case Admiral) playerbook wasn’t chosen, but so many people had connections to him, that he immediately became a hotly contested figure. All three of the PCs present had a bone to pick with him. Some the moment the last player sat down it was a total no-brainer. I handed over the commander, picked a few of the things that had been established (name, look, and rank) and then let my hapless newcomer dive into the myriad of troubles plaguing Admiral Noah Sethrin.

That ended up working out so much better than I ever could have hoped for. Because the player hadn’t been there to defend the Admiral’s actions at first, the character started off as kind of a despicable figure and was made more human through play.

I don’t want to go over the details of the game too much, since I plan to keep running it, but suffice to say my players were made of a thousand kinds of awesome. More on them below.

Thoughts on the game

First off, what is it with awesome gamer couples named Sean/Shaun and Kristin? Holy crap! I mean I love gaming with Shaun Hayworth and Kristin Hayworth, who would have thought I’d meet a second Sean and Kristin, and have them both be great gamers? Power to the gamer couples!

Ezra killed. I mean just killed. He was this hardcore activist that would do anything… anything for his cause. This including shooting one of his own people in the head, a teenager that was hardly a man no less, because he crossed him. Poor Micah, all he wanted was for people to be able to decide for themselves. The same thing Omid (Ezra’s character) wanted, he just wanted them to decide the RIGHT way. I loved how hard core he was. He took over Colonial One and was one roll away from ramming it into the Battlestar. Man I wish he had made that roll. It was awesome the way it went down, the CAG looked good, the president looked insane, the admiral looked like an uncaring soldier, but man, if he had hit that cool roll, legends would have been made.

The cylon reveals were epic. So far 7 out of 7 cylons have made perfect sense when the reveal. That systems works well.

Meilin was an incredible trouper. She sat down and had this villain of a character thrust in her hands and then rocked it. She was hard, she was tough, but she was also human. She did for the Noah Sethrin what I would have never been able to do if I was playing him as an MC character. She made the other PCs wonder, should I trust him?

The player vs. player conflicts in this game were really hot. The CAG and he Commander were constantly at each other’s throats. The Activist wasn’t happy with anybody. And the president, previously the intelligence secretary, in a wheelchair that she pushed by hand, she was like Admiral Caine in a blouse. She was bad ass, and she got in everyone’s faces.

No special (read: sex) moves happened. It just wasn’t the game for that; there was never time for someone to get busy with anyone. Too bad, the Commander’s special is so awesome, I really want to see someone use it one day.

For next time: Take out the obvious scapegoat and make sure all love letter entries are actionable.

Actual Play – Invasive Procedures (10/22/2011)

GM: Matthulhu Steele
Players: Ezar Denny, Monika Hortnagl, Ezra Denney, Karen Twelves, Xander Matthews, and Sean Nittner
System: Fear Itself

This was my first time playing Fear Itself, and only second experience with the Gumshoe system. I have to say, I’m still not sold on the system. While I really like the “if you have the skill you find the clue” system, I find it extremely cumbersome to conceive of how more than a dozen skills would apply to every particular scene, and I find it equally offensive to say “just pick a clue and whenever some uses a skill that seems okay, give it to them” because I think that completely robs the importance out of the specific skills the point where I wonder why even have them. So the game seems to either need to be very exhaustive or very sloppy and I like neither.

When Kevan Forbes ran Mutant City blues, it was more focused on the character drama than the procedural, which I really liked, but that was because Kevan was a good GM with good players. In this game Matt presented really horrific things, and disturbing NPCs, which I really liked, but again, that didn’t have anything to do with the core mechanics of the system.

The one time I did feel concretely like I used a particular skill, and even spent a point from my pool to get an extra useful detail (won’t give any spoilers, but it was a medical examination and my character had been sick all his life and in hospitals long enough that he could practically be a doctor himself), I thought the same information could have easily just been given to me because I could make some observations that anyone could have made.

So, though this isn’t a game system review, I am still waiting to seem Gumshoe shine. I love it in theory, and own a couple of the books, but unless you’re Kenneth Hite and have an absolute library of Cthonic obscurity in your mind ready to drop at the hat, I can’t see how this game works without WAY too much front loaded effort.

The game was a prefab adventure from Pelgrane Press (, which comes with a lot of its own baggage. One the one side, all those prep issues I talked about are presumably moot as the author should have done them for you. On the other, you’ve got boxed text phenomenon. Matt did a great job of making the game come to life for us, but there was still a very “scripted” feel to certain events.

Also, the game pushed buttons for me I don’t like. I think the author strongly needs to put in his boxed text “This games contains themes of powerlessness and transgression.” I won’t say more about it (both because it is upsetting to me and because I don’t want to give away spoilers), but while I’d gladly play in any other Matt Steele production, this game had content that wasn’t for me.

Our characters were patients in a dilapidated hospital. We weren’t in arkham asylum (we weren’t even in a psychiatric ward) but it felt like it just the same, down to the nurses that were completely dispassionate to our suffering. I played a chronically ill character who wanted to know what was wrong with him, but I found myself falling back (often) on my knowledge of nursing (from my wife who is a nurse) and thinking this a just “wrong”. Now, considering this was a horror game, that isn’t a bad reaction to have.

Thoughts after this game.

As a I mentioned I still WANT to be sold on Gumshoe, but haven’t gotten there yet. Even with a published adventure (where you would think the author would have gone to great lengths to provide information based on every relevant skill) I found few opportunities to use my investigative skill and rarely felt like they offered more that the GM couldn’t have just told me after I said “l check this out”

One thing I really like is the stability system. You have to make stability checks throughout the game and you can spend stability to add to your roll (as you can with any roll) but that means losing your stability in the process. Of course if you miss the roll, you lose it as well. This puts some nice meta tension on the players themselves to fret over the rolls. “And of course, it created the best quote of the night. This one goes go negative 11.”

One of the first “encounters” in the game was messed up and right up my alley. If the rest of the game had proceeded like that I would have loved it. Gareth Hanrahan, I’m looking at YOU!

Several of us walked away from the game with mixed feelings and we’ve continued a discussion after the game about them. Matt and I have shared a few email and I know he’s done the same with other players. I wish all games did this. I think taking a game apart after the fact, figuring out what worked and what didn’t is like one of the best things you can ever do to improving your game (as both a player and a GM). I’ve really enjoyed hashing it out with Matt and I’m really happy he’s be receptive to my thoughts.

Finally. Mike Bogan,, The Ultimate Superfly TNT Dolemite GM Ninja of All Time, this is a game that SCREAMS Four-Eyed Demon. Even if you don’t run it you should check it out. It elicited many of the same reactions from me as your In Nomine game years ago. And I wasn’t the only one.

Actual Play – Apocalypse Galactica (10/22/2011)

Apocalypse GalacticaGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Xander Matthews, Antonio Morton, Eric Ullman, and David Gallo
System: Apocalypse World
Hack: Apocalypse Galactica

Signing up to run this game was a bad idea. Two weeks after Big Bad Con, I was going to have a BSG hack of Apocalypse World ready for showtime? Well, foolishly I thought I could port playbooks over and just change the language a bit. Hardholder -> Commander, Chopper -> CAG, but then some started being a weird mix, Driver/Battlebabe -> Pilot. Savvyhead with some significant tweaks -> Engineer. Then it got even more wonky, as I realized that the troops the CAG commands are the same ones the Commander commands, and that the Battlestar really needed its own playbook, including marines and pilots, etc. And the CIC, that is a move right there. Firing nukes, engaging FTL. Gah!

Thankfully I had a lot of support from Karen Twelves, a fan of the show and experienced Apocalypse World player. She was great at answering questions like “does this move sound fun” and “does this sound like what they do in the show”. Also I had a lot of direction from the board game, as there were elements of desperation built into it (Crisis card and the count downs) that I knew fit AW well and would give me something to bounce off of when I thought about moves and fronts.

The project isn’t complete, but it was as much as I needed for the con. I had:

  • Seven playbooks (Commander, CAG, Engineer, Pilot, President, Visionary and Opportunist), two currencies (Supply and Favor).
  • Love letters for each playbook.
  • Four fronts (aka crises) including hunger, morale, security and fuel.
  • A playbook for the Battlestar including strengths like armaments and weaknesses like a tired crew.
  • A playbook for the fleet .
  • Two Cylon playbooks (which could be taka as part of the advancement “reveal yourself as a Cylon”).

Even going into it I knew there were some things I didn’t like. The Commander was an amalgam of the Commander and the XO. Once I make the XO playbook, I’ll take some things from the Commander and probably be much happier. There were other playbooks I was really delighted with, like he Opportunist and the President, as I felt they both really did what I wanted them to do.

That said, I’m not ready to release the playbooks publicly yet (because they still need more work), but I’ll be doing it soon.

Here’s what the game looked like put together (thanks Eric Ullman for the pictures)

Pitching the game.

Everyone at the table had a at least a passing familiarity with the show, which was helpful, and one player was familiar with Apocalypse World, which ended up being a challenge (see below). People were excited about playing and seemed to accept the “alternative universe options I presented them” happily. The one they picked was that Galatica was destroyed during the attack and their ship, the Battlestar Argonaut was the one to flee with the fleet.

Playbook selection when fast. I told them we needed either the Commander and/or the President played, but as soon as I opened it up, Antonio jumped on the Commander. Xander grabbed the engineer and David the pilot. Eric thought on it a bit and after some strong encouragement from me to take a civilian playbook (I thought the game would lose a lot of tension if the civilians weren’t recognized).

Character Creation

There was some real highs and lows here. It took a long time. Over an hour, which seems crazy with Apocalypse World, but I can think of at least a few reasons why.

  • I didn’t give people instructions of filling out the playbooks. I handed them to them and said “go”, without being considerate that ¾ of them hadn’t played AW before. I should have really gone through each part step by step.
  • There were a lot of choices. Playbook options, battlestar options, love letter options, etc. Just a lot of lists to go through.
  • The love letters were long, some of them a full page. I think that was too long a wall of text. I even wonder if they were necessary at all, given that in BSG there were rarely warnings of bad news, it just got sprung on the cast. Maybe starting a game with bad stuff already going on would work. More to think on that.

One thing that did really shine was the Hx. I’ve always felt Hx was slow, awkward and confusing. The language is confusing but even once you’ve understood it, the process is still a mess. I wanted to make things faster for character creation (clearly the only one place I thought about speeding things up) so I made all the Hx fixed and then allowed each character to change one of the fixed values to +3 and explain to that character why they cared about them. So, for instance, the Commander looks like this:


Everyone introduces their characters by name and playbook. List the other characters’ names and give them the following Hx:

CAG +2
Pilot +1
Engineer +1
President +2
Opportunist= 0
Visionary -1

For one person, scratch that out and write +3. Explain why care about them (I expect much from, I am in charge of, I set an example for, I don’t trust, I am in love with, etc).

That part not only make the Hx go quickly, it also meant the +3 relationships were highlighted, each person had a little story behind them. We got love affairs, love triangles and age old camaraderie out of the process, very happy there.

The Play is the Thing

I’m planning on running this game (more or less as is) again, so I’m not going to go into too many details, but suffice to say the two characters that revealed as Cylons really made the game for me. Not because they were Cylons per se, but because they kept the tension of the game riding right till the end.

Thoughts after the game.

I didn’t give the pilot of a lot of flying around time, which should be addressed. David suggested starting with a dog fight in media res which I may try next time (it wouldn’t change the story much at all), but I’ll need to be very considerate that doing so doesn’t leave the civilian characters twiddling thumbs.

Commander really needs to be split up into Commander and XO.

Using clocks was tough, although I liked having them there as a reminder, it ended up being just one more thing to keep track of. I like it in theory, and would definitely use in a long term game, but for a con I might get rid of it.

There were probably too many things going on. Between the threats in the love letters, and the crisis picked by the fleet, there were fires everywhere. And like you usually find in Apocalypse World, those fires just spread. Now, arguably we had a LOT of missed rolls in the beginning so I was trying to bring the hard moves quite often, but man, by the end, even after a victory, the fleet was a mess.

Many people (those who played and didn’t )said the game should be run again, so I’ll probably do it a few more times.

Actual Play – The Breakfast League (1/15/2011)

GM: Carl Rigney
Players: Sean Nittner, Karen Twelves, Dennis Jordan and Regina Joyner
System: Smallville

So first off props to Carl for running the Breakfast Club. I was a little surprised we didn’t start off in detention, but the game was still quite reminiscent. I know it is the nostalgia factor, but I still love that movie.

The plot isn’t surprising at all but that didn’t make it less awesome. Smallville take place in a tiny little town where the protagonist Clark is raised by good people that teach him to be an exceedingly moral character. Franklin (Frankville?) on the other hand is a dumpy little Kansas town that everyone is trying desperately to get out of! In this it reminded me quite a bit of Rock n’ Roll Dreams, a DiTV game that Carl ran a few times in 2008. In that game we were all trying to get out of town, but only the winner of the drag race would make it. In Breakfast League, we’ll we had a bit more leeway.

I don’t want to go into to many details because I can see Carl running this game several more times, and even though we didn’t see ALL the reveals, the ones we did were plenty revealing

What I can talk about, because it was driven pretty much exclusively by the players was our interactions. Two boys, who ostensibly didn’t get along and two twin sisters who shared nothing but apathy for each other. Quickly however, events in the game catalyzed and explosive growth in both relationships. The boys became immersed in their own doubts and the wrongness of their lives, while the girls were having a blast experimenting with their powers and trying to figure out who else had them, and what they could do.

One particular interaction was captured in several mediums:

  • From a twitter account: “Let’s trick Jaime to stand in front of a train to see if he has super powers!” #minicon
  • From an email from Carl after the game: Also, if Chase asks “Hey, how invulnerable ARE you? Like, what would an atom bomb do?” do NOT go along with her plan. It will probably not end well.
  • From my memory of the game “Admit it Chase! You dumped me when I was UNDER A CAR THAT JUST HIT ME!”

All in all, we had a grand time.

What rocked

Dennis and I played the boys trying to muck through their messed up lives. Both of us got really “hurt” in the game (my stress levels were all over the place) because of the issues we tackled. Jamie (my character) went as far as trying to blow his brains out. It didn’t work, but it was a fun place to take the Lead.  Woot! Teen angst!

The girls were hilarious. The raced across town using their super powers and went from totally apathetic to giddy with excitement.

As always, Carl delivers all the right goods. Where my game required me to distill down a tome of information, Carl summed up his settings in about 30 seconds. Where I started the game with larger than life conflicts, Carl executed teenage drama that started with a party by the quarry and snowballed into a Thelma and Louise style vigilante escape from the law and from our old lives.

What could have improved

As with my game, I felt Smallville lacked good instructions for how to end conflicts with stress. Giving is easy to understand, taking stress isn’t clear. Do you just add a beat in a different scene and come back to the conflict? That seems really drawn out. I’d like some examples.

Honestly, I know Smallville is the story of a hero’s beginning, but I wonder if it doesn’t actually “work” better for more established characters. The characters in Duneville ALWAYS knew who they were fighting for. In the Breakfast League we hit a couple times where figuring out “who” something was done for was kind of difficult. For instance: calling my dad to get him to do me a favor that would help me get recognized by a basketball scout. Who was this for, or against? For me but that doesn’t count. Against my dad perhaps, but I didn’t have him as a relationship. Eventually I said it was about impressing the coach, but even that felt a little week.