Actual Play – Dying at the End of Nerdly Beach (4/12/2014)

polarisFacilitator: John Kim
Players: John Kim (Sirius), Sean Nittner (Fornax), Ed Murphy (Altair), and Jeff Pedersen (Persius)
System: Polaris

Long ago, people were dying at the end of the world…

Woot, I finally got to play Polaris. At least a little bit. It got late fast and we petered out quickly (we got in 5 scenes I think), but we got a chance to make characters and play with the mechanics and ritual phrasing. And so it was…


John had a bunch of blessings, abilities, fates, and offices (all character bits) printed out so we went through and pulled some juicy ones out for our characters.

As we did that, and began discussing them, connections between the characters unfurled.

Sirius the song of truth, and Persius the renowned champion were brothers, son of Duke Corvus.  Perseus was to marry Rischia, the lady reknowned for her beauty, who was sister of Fornax, renowned for her star metal smiting, and also of Altinak, the renowned huntress. All of the daughters in fact were children of Duke Indus, who had twelve daughters, all renowned for something. Duke Corvus, we decided in play must of course have 12 sons to match.

The webs continued to weave between us.

Rischia was the sister of Fornax, betrothed to Persius, in love with Sirius and loved by Altair.

Etzlitotec was the mistaken woman, fairest of them all,  loved by Persius, and perhaps the abductor of Altinak.

Four Bird, lord of carrion was the mistaken that had killed a fellow knight Lady Lyra, but was now mastered by Fornax using her color forged of star metal.

And so it was… that we were all deliciously tied together.

The Play is the Thing

But hope was not yet lost, for nerdly campers still heard the son of the stars.

The A plot was the recovery of Altinak who had disappeared from Altair’s study.  Altair, Sirius, and Fornax were all focused on finding her, though they did so alone.

The B plot involved the wedding of Persius and Rischia, neither of whom desired their fated bond.

As mentioned above we didn’t get to far into it but we did see quite a bit of the mistaken twisting our intents, turning our goodness back on ourselves and, and finding means to ultimately destroy all of us.

But that all happened long ago, and now there are none who remember it.

Polaris at Nerdly

Thoughts on the game

It became very clear quite quickly that the active player needs to advocate very hard for their protagonist. Go right for the gusto, don’t sell yourself short wondering “can I do this?”, just do it and wait to see if your mistaken counters.

Framing a scene as the mistaken is a great way to create a conflict. John opened my 2nd scene (and the final in the game) as the mistaken, telling me what had happened and dropping me into the action. It was a great way to endanger the characters and move the story forward.

This setting is so rich and ethereal, I fucking love it. I’d really like to play more.

Ritual phrasing is so awesome. I found it so natural to open and close scenes with “and so it was…” and I loved the way the conversation was handled between the protagonist and the mistaken. Such good framing here for other games as well. I was playing thinking about Torchbearer… “you can cross that narrow ravine… but only if you find a way to balance yourself, lest the galling wind will surely push you off the ledge.”  Not quite the same as Polaris, but with some tweaks it would be a good set of conversation pieces to lead to up to a roll.

Actual Play – Blades in the Dark of Nerdly (4/12/2014)

Blades in the DarkGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Colin Jessup, Matt Troedson, David Gallo, and Morgan Ellis
System: Blades in the Dark (Playtest Draft version 2.5)

John Harper is making a bad ass game about rogues in the city of Duskwall. It’s in play-test now (version 2.7 as of this post, but we were playing with a cobbling together of 1.5 and 2.5 during the game).

Thinking Nerdly Thoughts

The drive down to nerdly is a little over four hours, which gave me plenty of time to think. Unfortunately I had been reading the 2.5 draft text before going down and only really printed 1.5 at the last minute. 2.5 didn’t include much about Duskwall so I started making stuff up, based on the few thinks I knew from the player sheet. Akoros and Sevros are at war, and have been for six years. Marian, The Swordlord of Duskwall was once loved (or at least tolerated) by her people, but in the years of fighting they have turned against her. Farmers over taxed. Mothers sending their too young children off to fight. Citizens of Duskwall  tired of the same speeches and empty promises being delivered over and over again, with no respite in sight.

Many of the people have openly turned against their leader. Insubordination, mutiny, insurrection! Canter, a soldier who committed mutiny when he threw down his sword and would not lead his men to battle rots in the Irongate prison. His sentence indefinite. His sister Levyra waits for him, but she unsafe on her own. The spirits speak to her whether she wants to hear them or not. Even from behind bars though Canter tries to help. He got her work from a crooked quartermaster, Srg. Bint. A man who smuggles creature comforts into the soldiers garrisoned in Brightstone. To keep outside the watchful eye of his superiors he carries them by way of Charhollow, and always uses beggers and thieves dressed as merchants to deliver them hidden amid the munitions and stale rations.

Merrul Brime knows of the trade, some of it passes through her tavern the hooded fox. She keeps secrets for people, and hides them so they can never be stolen. Written in blue fire ink that dissolves in light or after prolonged exposure to air. Stored in jars of blue-tinted formaldehyde and only viewed in darkroom she locks he clients in while they read it. Overmuch? Probably but the idea was drifting through my head and started getting into it. Blue stained fingers and all.


Before game I set up some things to look appropriate to the genre.

Map art by Michael Tumey

I spoke a little about the game and then read the introduction text (from version 1.5) plus a small addendum based on my musings in the car.

It is the year 847 of the Imperium that united the shattered isles of the cataclysm under one rule—all glory to his majesty the Immortal Emperor.

The unquiet shades of the dead—free to roam the world since the gates of death were shattered in the cataclysm—prey on every living thing in the ink-dark deadlands between cities.

The port of Duskwall, like every city-stronghold of the Imperium, is encircled by crackling lightning-towers which create an electrical barrier that shadow-spirits cannot pass. By law, all corpses are incinerated with electroplasm (to destroy the shadow essence within). However, wealthy citizens, heretics of the spirit cults, and the criminal element often arrange for a shadow to escape destruction at the crematorium. Sale of rogue shadows and the illegal spirit essences derived from them are rich trade for the black market.

The docks of Duskwall, on the cold, windswept northern tip of Akoros, are home port for the titanic iron steamships of leviathan hunters. The blood of those massive, immortal demons is the catalyst which gives electroplasm (and a variety of other exotic substances) its potency. The noble elite of the city make their fortunes from the fleets of leviathan hunters they deploy on the night-black waters of the Never Sea.

Despite the Imperial rule, fighting still breaks out between nations. Usually the are quelled quickly but for these past six years, Akoros has warred with Severos to the south. The never ending costs of war have turned the people of Dukswall against their leader. Swordlord Marian, once loved by her people, is now reviled by them. Soldiers, hardly more than boys, head out for battle, most of them never to return.

I then played the opening music: “Furnace Room Lullabye” by Neko Case. iPhone speakers did the trick!

Creating Characters

This was probably the most fun we had. Hard choice to make (picking talents) and great stories (what you were incarcerated for). Here’s what we made:

Frost (Collin Jessup) – A soldier for Severos (usually hated in Duskwall) that defected. He was skilled in Blade-work, alchemy, physicker, and strategy, and hooked on the own alchemical concoctions he brewed. Frost knew that after the cataclysm there were still bodies that had not been incinerated were still burried north of the city. Dangerous work, grave robbing, but well worth it. At the last minute though he had been caught. Five bodies safely carried into the city, hidden in the Barrowcleft, and then caught on his way out! He served three years for his crime but knew the bodies would still be there waiting for him when he got out. A little worse for the wear maybe, but it wasn’t like they were doing that well to begin with!

Coil Haig (David Gallo) – A grifter, pick pocket and burgler who thrived on frivolous indulgences. Coil was skilled in guile, finesse, security, and appraisal, and like many of the people form Iruvia, he was a sly bastard. Coil had been in Irongate for a brief stint for trying to impersonate a merchant on the night market named Taffer. He was selling fake Night Lilies to someone with wealth when the real Taffer showed up. It went downhill from there.

Cross (Matt Troedson) – A blood mage from the Dagger Isles. His people traffic in blood magic and opium (often in combination) and he was a trafficker of both. Cross was a Whisper skilled with talents of channel, sight, tempest, and awareness. Cross was the kind of guy that looked like he was high all the time. Glassy eyed and unfocused, but that was just because he was using the sight to see into the other realms. Realms of horror and spirit.  Cross was the only one of the gang that was actually innocent. He didn’t want to work for the Dimmer Sisters so they framed him and let him take the fall for another job they did. Nice ladies.

Thena (Morgan Ellis) – A merciless scrapper and native to Duskwall, Thena was a sharp woman with talents in balde-work, reflexes, streetwise, and athletics. She had a weakness for beautiful ladies though, and got put in the Irongate for assaulting (really just fish-hooking) a ship captain that was putting the moves on her woman. When Thena got out she just wanted to have a night of drinking and debauchery, and the follow it up with finishing the job she had started on that smuggler.

Situation Setup

We mapped some districts and some distinct features of Duskwall. The poorest district Charhallow, where they made charcoal (we were playing next to a campfire, so the smoke helped evoke the choking cough most of the resident exhibited) that wrapped around Dunslough (better off only because they had a cistern that stored the city’s water). East of that was Barrowcleft, on the edge of the old barrows north of the city (previously a graveyard, but not all of the bodies, or at least most of the bodies, have been exhumed). East of that, invisible to the rest of the city behinds it’s tall stone walls was Brightstone, where the garrison was posted. The island tip to the south called Crows Foot was remarkable because it as both run by a powerful criminal organization The Unseen and because it hosted Irongate prison. Not ironic at all to the thieves.

The players were give three options for their starting selection and chose this one:

The criminal boss of this ward, Scurlock, was recently 3. killed and no one has stepped forward to lead his gang or seize control of the ward. There are a few likely candidates, including his murderer and former partner, Roric; the secretive Dimmer Sisters; and the Skovlander, Ulf Ironborn. Until a boss is named, most fences won’t operate in the ward, and the City Watch are off their bribes and looking to crack skulls and make their jail quota. But hey, no one is ordering you around, huh? Since you’re on your own without any higher-ups to pay a share to, each PC starts with 6d of wealth.

Here was what our map looked like after we were done with it.

Map art by Michael Tumey

The Play is the Thing

Set up, we jumped into play. And this is where I realized I didn’t know what I was doing. Do I ask them about their world and see where I can apply pressure Apocalypse World style? That probably would have been a good thing.  Or do I present them with some threat or situation to deal with and see how the react? That might also have worked pretty well. But instead , I gave them a “you’re all in the Hooded Fox” and watched to see which thread they would take interest in.

The trouble being that there were so many. Each character had some unfinished business related to the crime that got them put away in the first place, and there was also Canter and his system, and her connections with the crooked quartermaster, and there was a power struggle between three factions. There were just targets everywhere and I did’t really bring any of them in particular alive.

At least not a first. As they talked I found ways to ramp up some tension. Guests that overheard them getting up and walking out. Those same guests moving as those animated and when examined by Cross, clearly dead bodies inhabited by spirits.

After some time a plan unfolded. Turn Ulf Ironborn, the necromancer against the Dimmer Sisters blood mages in a bloody war and when they had both destroyed each other, step in and take over Charhallow. Ambitious little fuckers!

But even with that plan I didn’t think I gave them enough. I hadn’t provided enough moving pieces (or asked enough questions to figure out where those moving pieces were) so instead of seeking out ways to infiltrate the respective leader’s domains, they walked right in to make them an offer (one they had just made up).

As were were limited on time I granted each group (they split up) audiences with the leaders relatively easily and then let them ply their trade. Ulf wanted bodies to replace the ones Frost and Thena had destroyed (they cut them up and dropped them in the river), or as he said it, homes for his friends. The Dimmer Sisters though, they wanted servitude. Branding your chest, working with other thieves from their roster, and injection of their blood to control a man’s humors should they desire (this was a roll of 3 on a Desperate Gamble to convince them, all kinds of bad).

All in all though it looked like their plans were working (of a sort) but after a week of putting this all into motion, and without any small jobs to help pay the bills most of them couldn’t keep up. Thena was thrown back in Irongate for vagrancy but a guard looking to hit his quota. Coil was hankering for some of the good life and was distracted by the lack of all that which shiny and aged 18 years or more.  Paying bills is a bitch!

Thoughts on this game

It kind of killed me that it was only in the end (after the first week) that I felt like the gears were really moving. We hoped to get in another session but that’s tough to do at Nerdly. I think if we had, the would have realized their “long con” was going to take some smaller jobs to help fun, and in I could have used their new connections with (the Dimmer Sisters and Ulf) to both offer them opportunities and cause complications (what if they were seen together? what if their new patron was testing them and sending them into a trap?). Also, we could have seen some of the personal agenda’s roll out. I wanted to see Thena get her drinking and wenching on. I wanted to see Frost try to recover those same bodies he got put Irongate for three years for.

I was a bit torn on how to handle the corrupt quartermaster. I had intend to introduce him as someone to give them a small job (sneaking contraband to the soldiers) and take the job or not that would be a window into the war. Without knowing what he was moving though, the group decided it has to be weapons and armor, which it wasn’t at all. They never quite got to the “lets all jack Sgt. Bint’s carriage” stage but I was trying to figure out if I should a) encourage them to learn more about it before they did, b) allow them to knock it over and find things like letters from loved ones, smutty rags, and drugs instead, or c) ret-conned it in my head and have him be moving weapons all along.  Wasn’t sure what would be best for the story, but I knew that what I wanted was for the characters to get dirty, have to live in the muck for a bit in order to see how to climb out of it.

I didn’t use guilds because a) I wanted to see the characters start off with nothing and b) because I didn’t want to introduce a new rules set into the game when I was still learning the basics. I’m not sure if doing so might have helped give them some directions, or if it would have felt like another piece to try and figure out where it fits in the fiction and in the mechanics.

Torchbearer in particular has made me very aware that you need to realize where to set the bar when gaming. How heroic are these characters? What is possible in this world. I think the wealth mechanics (rolling at the end of every week) was my best teacher here. You’ve gotta work to stay alive and fed! I’d very much like to play again and depict those pressures as being very alive and present.

Trust in first principles! I think I could have gotten things moving much faster (and smoother) but asking more questions up front. How did you guys get together? Was it in the click? What job did you agree you were going to do when you got out? Which if you notices that Merrul’s fingers are blue when you know perfectly that formaldehyde you smell would dye them yellow? You know, those kinds of questions.

A note on dice pools. I was very liberal letting the players use their national traits (everything Thena did was sharp, etc) because the dice pools seemed very low. We tried a few 0 dice rolls (rolling 2d6 and taking the lowest number) which all went poorly. Net result: I was definately a fan of making tasks doable without rolls, having them roll a Display of Skill whenever it felt like something they should be doable, using Risky Maneuvers when my gut told me it would be tough, and only using Desperate Gambles on the one roll that I thought was insane. My barometer at least.

One cool rule we made up: The first time you draw your blade, you have to describe it. We had some wicked sounding knives!

Actual Play – King of the Sump (4/11/2014)

MC: Colin Jessup
Players: Josh Roby (Shit Head), David Gall0 (Sunset), and Sean Nittner (Grip)
System: Apocalypse World

Josh posted on the Nerdly G+ group that he was looking for some straight up Apoc World. No hacks, just barfing forth Apocalyptica. This sounded pretty hot to me as well. Add Colin as our MC and David as another player and BOOM, Friday night game was happening.

Fuck you all, I’m almost done

I grabbed and Angel because I’ve never played one and the hard ass medic (which I ended up not being) appealed to me. I just started filling out dots. Grip, appears female, stout body, haggard face, shining eyes. I decided the face was scarred, two burn marks on her cheeks from her face being pressed against hot metal bars. And shining eyes were really shining, like Fremen shining, some shit had happened to her that made her this way, a bit broken.

I felt uniquely comfortable in this group. We had started out pretty late (9:30 PM, give or take) and I really wanted to get in a game before we all got too sleepy. Note, this was at Camp Nerdly, so we were all outside in the cold as well.  As I got a ways in and the others were still picking away at playbooks I told them all to fucking hurry up and pick their shit. It felt right for the night.

Josh almost took a Hardholder but settled on a Chopper named Shit Head. A calm dude that Shit Head. David make a battlebabe named Sunset, a man with a gorgeous body.

I played my normal card which is “oh, you’re a leader character, we’re all in your gang, yeah?” It works great. I was the medic, abducted from her previous holding but now loyal to the gang. Sunset thought was more of a mercenary. Previously part of the gang he had recently defied Shit Head (calling for less random violence than the gang was inclined to inflict on the Sump people) and so his standing in the gang was uncertain. That ended up being the central point of tension in the game. What was going to happen between Shit Head and Sunset?

Apocalypse Drowned

We went for a wet, constantly raining, usually drowning apocalypse. The holding we had just rolled into was the Sump, and we had taken over an building in it (or the usable parts of it at least). In the center of the Sump was a building that had still working pumps which kept the basement dry (if not humid and loud), occupied by a warlord Corbit. A man Shit Head alone had met, and one he was in debt too. Corbit didn’t much like Shit Head beating on his people, but he provided something useful (muscle and mobility) so Corbit tended to look the other way.

What’s Wierd Here

Grip learned her medicine from a witcher woman in her old holding. A woman who was alive before the fall, who knew actual medicine. But she chose Grip because the (at that time) young woman had a talent. She could use leeches to help people. Applying them first to her own face to absorb the healthy humors and the placing them on the fallen to balance the humors of the wounded.

This got…weird. Eventually grip used her infirmary and brain matter from a recovering patient (who was no longer recovering after she finished) to forge a connection between the leech attached to her and the leech she left in Bar’s brain (the thug who had just recently had his brains mashed in by Sunset). This all ended up in me taking the In Brain Puppet Strings move. Yikes, Angel gone Brainer.

What Matters Here

What really mattered though ,was the conflict between Shit Head and Sunset. The game opened up with Twice, one of Shit Head’s reliable violent bastards, telling him that he (Shit Head) had to sort things out with Sunset. The fucker couldn’t be allowed to defy Shit Head and just walk around scott free. Whoever the fuck scott is.

Shit Head gave Twice leave to solve the problem any way he wanted, which he took to mean kill the bastard but Shit Head assumed mean go get killed by the bastard.

Neither one of these two asses were making any friends. Grip was trying to keep them together. Let Twice eat shit and die, so that Shit Head could promote Sunset to his #2 and have him as an adviser with a conscience.

It seemed like it was possible. Shit Head was open to the idea. Grip had a few other parts of the gang that she could control too. Shugsui and Mox knew enough to listen to her. Bar had his brain all fucked with but would take single order, and Swiss Miss (the Sump girl who Shit Head kept along to give him shaves but who really knew what was happening with Corbit) was on board too.

Fucking Sunset!

The fucker just couldn’t see a good thing when it was right in fucking front of him. Shit Head gave him options but he didn’t want any of them. He wanted to cut him out, go work for Corbit directly, give the warlord Grip as well. Take everything Shit Head had from him… and what was the chopper going to do about it?

Blow his fucking head off. Yep. One PC just killed the ever loving fuck out of another. And that was how order was restored in Shit Head’s gang.

Thoughts on this game

Colin really nailed it by focusing the game on the conflict between Sunset and Shit Head. I was stoked to play a support character in that interaction.

Josh does good job of planing the non-hard ass chopper. The guy who just doesn’t have the ego or the fucks to give about what people think of him. He was very good ad being hard to goad.

I wonder if I got too weird. Never quite sure with AW how weird I want to go. Self mutilation, glowing eyes, leeches. Too much? I don’t wanna be that guy, the one that goes gonzo in place of having character, story, or being affected by things.

Didn’t get a pick of the game but we were playing at night by a campfire, occasionally inhaling smoke that made us choke and generally cold as fuck. You know, as you should Apocalypse.



Actual Play – Apocalypse Galactica Beyond Thunderdome (4/21/2012)

Apocalypse GalacticaMC: Sean Nittner
Players: Karen Twelves, Hamish Cameron, David Gallo
System: Apocalypse World
Hack: Apocalypse Galactica

David wins all kinds of prizes for being int this game. He is:

  • The only person to play three games of Apocalypse Galactica with me (notably Karen Twelves, Michael Garcia, and Eric Ullman have all played two).
  • The only person to play three games at Nerdly Beach Party with me.
  • The only dude who got me to introduce a warlord inspired by Grace Jones ala Tina Turner vis a vi Thunderdome!

I started this game with my confidence a bit shaken. The previous game was fraught with trouble and I really wanted this one to be better. Also, David had already played through the scenario I prepared (Damascus Falls) twice.  By the second run, I had changed things substantially, but even with that a 3rd run through seemed like it would be lackluster at best.

So I tried something I’ve never done with Apocalypse Galatica (or with AW for that matter, beside the very first time I ran it, when I was still learning the system). I ran a “1st session game”.  I took all my love letters and tossed them, held out a few playbooks that I thought would be fun to see, and let the players pick something they wanted.

The Cast

Karen – Pilot – Elspeth Reiss, call sign Apex. Reiss wanted to be a good pilot, wanted more than anything to be a good pilot. Wanted it so much that she used stims to stay awake all the time… and got busted for it. Freeze, her CAG had put her on non-combat duty (not quite grounded, but nearly as bad) and she started the game loading passengers on to her Raptor to ferry from the Battlestar to the the Prometheus.

Hamish – Daljeet Solomos, a security officer (the first time someone has played the Partisan) who was an ex-marine from the colonial navy. He now did whatever work he could get to play the bills. Dajeet was well dressed and tried to create an air of professionalism, but truth be told he was hired for thug work as often as not.

David – Levin Solat, aka, The Solat was a visionary and priest of the Lords of Kobol. He believed that the fleet had been offered a moment of respite and the gods willed that they take this time to rejoice, in a completely bacchanal fashion! His flock were dedicated enthusiastic drug fixated anarchists. Wow, I didn’t even realize that combination of options existed. How awesome.


With three players, I really wanted every one to be in each other’s faces. I asked the players to all think of reasons why they were together.  It came very easily, actually. The Solat had heard word that one of his followers ran afoul a powerful businesswoman named Kanti aboard the Prometheus. He hoped to resolve the situation peacefully, but wanted to be prepared, so he hired Daljeet to come with him as either bodyguard or extraction expert, depending on the situation.

Apex was on shit duty. Now that there was a reprieve from the Cylons, many families that had been separated were now being brought back together. She was on ferry duty, taking passengers on her Raptor back to their respective ships. Her assignment included a group of civilians, going back to the Prometheus. Polati, Hsing, Targaris party of two (mother and daughter), Daljeet, and The Solat.

The set up made, each player picked the person to have +3 Hx with.

Reiss had a love/hate relationship with The Solat’s followers. Though she had never met him personally before how, that same feeling of begrudging dependency extended to him. She needed his people for the drug hook up but hated having to listen to their religious yammering.

The Solat, it turns out did not hire Daljeet just for his protection, but because he saw something in the man and though it would feed his soul to be around The Solat and his followers. He didn’t want to convert Daljeet per se, but just show him the spiritual side of life.

Daljeet had no idea what he was getting into but new that most jobs ended up being a whole lot crappier than they sounded at first. He didn’t really care about The Solat per se, he was just another client. Apex however, had saved his life back in his days of being a Marine. A boarding party hand landed on the Sisyphus and the ship was about to blow. The CAG had ordered Apex to get the hell out of there but she stayed till the last minute till Daljeet and his fellow marines made it back to her Raptor. She didn’t even remember him (especially out of uniform) but he owed her an incredible debt.

Apocalypse Galactica

We started this game asking questions, barfing forth the Galatica, and generally doing the 1st session kind of things. I wanted to know what it looked like when Reiss did a roll call for her raptor and Solat was on board. The result was “huh… next!”

We followed the characters, and their very low intensity interactions for a while. The Solat asked for a prayer on board, that made people uncomfortable. Reiss’ CAG called her on board and told her she’s have to stay on the Prometheus to do some work… and could take her mandatory drug test there.  Daljeet noticed that two of the passengers has untoward intentions. Hsing was packing a small arm under his jacket but it was Polati that deferred to. All in all we had a lot of subtle tension, but no overt threats.

Getting off the raptor on the Prometheus made it clear that something was wrong. Luggage checks were being done by the civilian officers and while Daljeet had to “check” his gun by placing a tracking beacon on it, the other armed passenger Hsing passed a handful of cubits to the officers and walked passed unaccounted for.

Unarmed and seemingly unaware of the guards, The Solat walked passed. He belonged here, he knew it and so did everyone else. I had David roll+cool (Acting under fire) for this, but it was such as cool move (as you’ll see below) that I’m considering make it a Visionary move:

I belong here: Put down your defenses and walk among enemies with tranquility in your heart. Roll+cool (maybe +faith). On a 10+ choose 2. On a 7-9, choose 1, either way you are where you want to be.

  • You’re the center of everyone’s attention.
  • You draw no notice to yourself.
  • You have an audience with the leader.
  • You are able to bring your friends with you, under your protection.
  • One f your followers is already present in the group.

They encounter Jasvinder almost as soon as they passed security. She ostensibly was there to tell The Solat about Acario, one of his flock who had gone missing after he displeased Kanti. Her first encounter, however was with Reiss. The pilot knew she was taking a blood test and knew she was still high on stims. I had her read a sitch to see if Jasvinder could find her something to detox with, so she could pass the compulsory drug test. I think this was my favorite missed roll (6-) of all time.

“Yes, we have an herbal root that will purify you. It is called Chamalla and it is known for it’s healing and restorative properties.” For folks not a fan of the show, Chamalla is yes, used to fight diseases, it is also a VERY powerful hallucinogenic. YES!

Jasvinder then pointed the way to the cargo decks, where Kanti, leader of the black market could be found.

Visions of Serpents

I could tell, just at the mention of Chamalla (and seeing David’s enthusiasm) that this episode of AG deserved a little more of the supernatural than normal. Sure, pass it of as hallucinations or delusions, I was ready to start in truly giving the visionary capital-V Visions.

As they walked down the bulk head they could tell things were worse than they expected. I proceeded to barf forth the Galactica. Lights were flickering, comm stations had been ripped form the walls, bulk head doors were welded shut, and detritus filled the passage way. At the end of a hall the met two guards, Kelso and Cosmo, who clearly had armed themselves with Colonial Navy munitions. They also saw that Daljeet was packing a giant shotgun and Reiss was dressed in a  Colonial Navy flight suit. This wasn’t going to be pretty.

The Solat did again, what would be his signature move. He just walked passed the guards. He was unarmed and clearly someone who belonged in a seedy place like this.

Reises and Daljeet were told plainly however, they weren’t wanted.  And the question came up, why hasn’t anyone done anything about this blatantly illegal behavior on the ship? Cosmo, who had a marine radio on his shoulder had just squeeze the push-t0-talk button to call in reinforcements (he really didn’t want to answer that question when the prospective answer was going to result in a fair fight). And what did Cosmo get for his hesitation? The butt of Daljeets shotgun to his head… and Kelso go the business end of that same shotgun in his face.

From here the mechanics drove the narrative in a really, REALLY, awesome way.  Daljeet had rolled to seize by force (in this case, seizing control of the situation) and Reiss wanted to help buy pinning the guy down after he dropped.  Daljeet got a 10+ and did all the awesome seizing you’d expect. Reiss roll a miss to help, so when she jumped on Cosmo to pin him down, he raised his SMG right up into her gut… and cut to Solat vision. Watching all this happened I turned to Solat and told him he saw one of his companions in danger. A man had a gun in a her belly and a snake was crawling up his arm and around his neck. He leapt to kill the snake, another seize by force. He squeezed the serpent till it feel limp in his hands and then dropped it to the ground.

What everyone else saw was him grabbing the shoulder strap to Cosmo’s SMG and using it as a garrote to choke the life out of the man, friction burning his own hands from grabbing so hard in the process.

Damn, I felt like that changed the game in a fundamental way. First off, I revealed that I may not depict things as they are in reality to the players, especially Solat. Second, if felt like a major bonding moment between the characters. They had all just been involved in a major physical altercation and now a man was dead, so that one of them could live. In the hallway earlier Daljeet and revealed to Reiss that he was one of the marines she saved on the Sisyphus. So now, both Reiss and The Solat had saved someone’s life… and Daljeet was hired as the bodyguard. The upcoming danger of his job was implicit.

After that, they entered the cargo bay

Beyond Thunderdome

What was this place going to be like? Frak if I should know. So I pulled out the Businessman’s playbook and handed the back of it, with the “Bussiness” options to the players and told them to hand the playbook around, filling it out. The selected that the primary business was “Fight Club”, and the secondary trades were recreational drugs and water. For atmosphere they chose: violence, noise, and kink.

I ask you dear reader. How could I not make the the Thuderdome? I described hanging cages, artificial waterfalls that people drank from and or defiled each other in, a heavy cloud of smoke that clung to everyone and everything, and pounding, thundering above it all was a constant thrum of music, so loud and full of bass, it could only be heard as noise. Yeah, I barfed forth the Apocalypica.

This is the point in the game where Karen later told me I had gone to far, but it was very hard to stop adding these details when David kept applauding them. Every nuance was met with a resounding “Yes” and so it encouraged me to add more.

The Fight Club, as the the found was a pit surrounded by tall walls made of cargo containers. Above the pit was a carosel mechanism of cages, like some carnival ride gone horribly wrong. Seemingly at random the cages would slowly whirl and clack above head and and when it pleased Kanti, stop, deposit their contents into the pit, so they could fight for their own survival. The contents were one part prisoner, one part gladiator.

To both continue the serpent theme further and to really irk Reiss, a Viper (as in the ship) wing was perched above the pit, like a deadman’s plank over the open sea. At the end of the wing (which had a missile still attached mind you) the cockpit seat had been placed like a throne. Kanti, covered in serpent tattoos, wearing black leather boots, with black hair standing straight up, sat in the throne, ruling over all. At each foot was a servant, literally licking her boots.  Okay Karen, perhaps you’re right. This may have been too much for Apocalypse Galatica… or maybe (in retrospect) it was just the cloying vapors of Chamalla smoke in the air, that made everything seem as surreal as it was.

A new range category for Apocalypse World: Intimate

The character split up. Reiss and The Solat went to speak with Kanti (and try and smooth over relations with her) and Daljeet looked for Acario (in case they couldn’t)

For the third time (and why I really think I need to make a move for this) The Solat just walked past Kanti’s guards and addressed her. The music was turned down to a low thrum and the audience quieted their shouts so everyone could hear the exchange. Kanti, still sitting on her throne, had her back to The Solat as he walked down the plank towards her, but as he addressed he, her two servants, like twin headed serpents looked up from licking her boots and spoke to The Solat, offering her response.

Kanti was not impressed. An least not until The Solat grabbed a bucket of water and threw it in the face of one of her servants, causing him to fall off the edge of the wing into the pit below, where he broke his neck on the uneven wreckage.  That got her attention, the one head had to talk in double time (as his twin was now dead) but she was willing to discuss the division of their interests. See, it was at this point that I realized Kanti was just the dark shadow of The Solat. His followers revered violence, indulgence and recreation… as did the patron’s of Kanti’s hold. The talked, realized they were fighting over the same audience, and (thanks to a miss on his roll to manipulate) The Solat got clubbed in the back with a Viper landing support turned weapon and knocked down into the pit.

We had a bit of confusion in play, because I had thought, as part of that hard move to finally resolve Daljeet’s search for Acario and have him in a cage (of course) and have Acario drop down into the pit and be forced to fight The Solat. Well, that was a bit more than the characters were going to idle by and watch.

Daljeet climbed on to one cage as it swung by and then leapt onto Acario’s cage to rescue him. Yay the “smash and grab” move got used.  I really like that one.  He picked the “don’t make a mess of things” and “don’t have to fight my way in” options, leaving “don’t have to fight my way out” for me to give him a fight.

Meanwhile, Reiss grabbed a chain and threw it down to The Solat to get him out of the pit. Unfortunately, that chain was attached to a big guy, that she tossed down with ease… because of course a) she revealed herself as a Cylon (yay) and b) she got a 7-9 acting under fire, so that was an actual “reveal” to those around, given her inhuman strength.  With some effort (his hands were still burned from choking Cosmo) he climbed back onto the wing.

This was too far for Kanti. Actually it had been too far the moment he climbed out of the pit without fighting his way out, but I didn’t want to interrupt all the awesome. She lurched at him like a servant darting forward, wrapped her arms around him, and planted her two curved blades (like fangs) into his back (and I’m sure several internal organs).

Their two sweaty bodies were pressed up against each other, face to face. Held fast by her strong arms digging the blades into The Solat. They were at “Intimate” rage.

A new range category for Apocalypse World: Erotic

With what could have been his last breath The Solat began chanting to his followers present (which of course there were plenty of). He spoke the truth about Kanti’s corruption, about his own teachings and the home they would find in his flock. Yay, Frenzy! He incited them to surge forth and then go quietly back to their homes, ebbing away the the violent energy in the crowd.

Kanti spit in his mouth. It didn’t accomplish anything. It was her final act of defiance. Even if he died then on her blades he had won. Still though, we had to invent yet ANOTHER range category for Apocalypse World: Erotic.


It was Daljeet and Reiss’s final heroic action to get The Solat to a doctor before he bled out. And because we established that Doc Burns was in fact on the Prometheus (as he was going to do Reiss’ drug test), it made total sense that they could get him there. The Solat’s wounds were at 11 o’clock and it was a final “acting under fire” that got him there. And they got the 10+ because of aiding one another. How cool is that!

In the final down beat, we saw Daljeet and Reiss again in the doctor’s surgery room. He handed her a small vial and said “here, that’ll get you through the drug screen.” Aw.

Thoughts on this game

Yeah, I went overboard. But I had a blast with it, and I think so did the players in the moment (though they might be wincing in retrospect). What I really should have done was to premise the the fight club scene with a puff of chamalla smoke as they walked it. Then it could have all been metaphoric and shit.

If fact, I did dump some smoking chamalla root in Reiss’ face towards the end, to fulfill the he miss she made early on to detox, but we never really played off that. A bit sloppy on my part.

Also sloppy was introducing the other passengers, and having none of them come back. We really didn’t have time for any more NPCs to have spotlight, but I had made a point that they were bad news and then we didn’t see them again… maybe next session…?

This game was just a shit load of fun for me. I wasn’t worried about keeping track of a gillion things. I just played of what the characters did. The players were great about finding reasons to stick together and it invest in each other.  I didn’t have nine thousand things going on, just one stream of awesome.

I’m definitely going to run more “1st session” games of Apocalypse Galatica. I liked that we were more focused on what the characters were up to than what was happening around them.

Range Categories: Far, Close, Hand, Intimate, Erotic. Rock!



Actual Play – Companions (4/21/2012)

MC: David Gallo
Players: Meghann Ahern, Will Huggins, Sean Nittner, and Jeff Pedersen
System: Apocalypse World
Hack: Companions

This is Jeremy Tidwell’s Dr. Who hack of Apocalypse World. The premise is that all the characters are companions of the Doctor that have parted ways with him (for one reason or another) and now the Doctor is gone and what are left are his companions, all feeling a little bit empty inside without him.

I know about as little as a nerd can know about Dr. Who. I’ve seen 1.5 episodes, and have heard people talk about the shoe. I know who Rose is, who the first doctor after the reboot is, and a little of the technology (Sonic screw drivers, the TARDIS, etc). I was interested to see how well I’d do playing with people who were big Who fans.

The cast

Adair – The androgynous Whiz picked up by the doctor. On a planet of technical experts Adiar was considered the working class and was never given much regard. The Doctor treated Adair with respect and gain the Whiz’s admiration. A combination of fear of the outside world and total fascination with the TARDIS kept Adair inside ALL the time. The Whiz never left. Ever. One day the Doctor left and the TARDIS took off without him. Adair, like always was on board, and now rode the TARDIS alone. Waiting to find the Doctor again.

Drake – The Agent who could seduce anything that reproduced. He was a time traveler who eventually parted ways with the Doctor, trying to find his own future and not be under the Doctor’s shadow. Drake dressed in a WWII flight suite and we opened up the game with him on the wedding alter (still in the flight suit), about to say “I do” when the TARDIS arrived and he bolted out of the chapel to find it!

Sarah – A physical therapist and workout instructor from the 1980s complete with spandex and leg warmers. She nursed the Doctor back to health when he was injured once and tried to protect him from the enemies that were still after him. She got caught up in his world and became a companion. Three years ago (by her time) Sarah was left behind by the Doctor, who thought she died in an earthquake. She had been struggling to survive since them, amongst a note quite hostile, but definitely not friendly race of bipedal insects (imagine Thri-kreenbut with four legs and haunches like centaurs). She had become tough and a little bit crazy due to the experience (like a crossover of Fred from Angel and Sarah Conner from Terminator 2).

Mentat – A robot created by the Doctor, and like Adair, respected by the Doctor for his sentience, rather than being disregarded as a tool. Mentat parted ways with the Doctor after Sarah was left behind. He had to go save her, but ended up trapped on the planet as well. Mentat identified as male (and dressed as such) but that was mostly to fit in. His garb was a mish mash of many time periods where he had picked up this and that.


This part of the game was a little muddled. David asked us something about our history, specifically how we parted ways with the Doctor. First off this was kind of hard to think of. I mean, why would the Doctor leave you, or why would you leave him? We had some suggestions but most of those came from the show, and players, being what players are, were inclined to think of their own ideas, or at least fresh takes on existing ones. Will made a character that was very much like Captain Jack Harkness (yes, I have now watched two episodes of Torchwood, however that was since playing the game, so I didn’t know who Jack was then), and I think he really wanted to separate him from Jack, and not have the same concept.

We started coming up with reasons for separation, and who knew who, and what the timeline of when we were with the doctor when I mentioned to Jeff, that I had already filled out my bonds and according them he had betrayed me (Mentat betrayed Sarah) but we were now best friends. This helped us start forming relationships and a chronology but still it was a little bit sticky.

The result we had was:

The Doctor traveled with Drake first, and while traveling with Drake, picked up Sarah. He then created Mentat. Then Drake left to find his own way, Sarah was lost, Mentat left to find her, and finally Adair was inadvertently take from the Doctor by the TARDIS. I don’t know when in there Adair joined up, presumably before Drake left though, as we all had bonds with each other.

Bonds were also somewhat problematic because the fiction indicates (from what I understand) that the Doctor very rarely travels with more than one companion. Yet, based on the bonds we all knew each other. And I think knowing each other is VERY, VERY important. So, I almost think the canon format needs to be suspended a little bit to make this game work, as doing “oh, you worked with the Doctor too?” introductions will get really old, really fast.


I don’t remember everyone elses but this is what I had:

  • Drake had rescued my family once and I was grateful to him.
  • Drake was also my confidante that I told everything too.
  • Mentat had stabbed me in the back, telling the Doctor there was no life signs after the earthquate even when he knew I was there.
  • Mentat was also my best friend though. He had come back for me and we spent the last three years living together on this unfriendly planet.
  • OMG, I was so in love with Adair. His technowizardy was thrilling and he was always there in the TARDIS, an enigma. This played off really well as Mentat had absorbed an image of Adair and so could reproduce his voice and physical mannerisms… which Sarah asked him to do sometimes to feel connected.

Overall, I’m not a big fan of bonds. I like the narrative element in that it is more than just I have +2 with you but -1 with you, etc. I don’t like the fixed nature of them though, and how they can actually make establishing backstory harder if everyone is trying to fill out all their bond slots and come up with bonds that break each other’s brains.

The play is the thing:

The TARDIS works for a very nice plot device. It quickly picked up Drake (Adair was already on it) and dropped both of them on the planet where Mentat and Sarah had been living.

We had a very dangerous reunion (as the surface of the planet was filled with APOCALYPTIC GASES , my invention) and a person could only survive two minutes on the surface without risking permanent brain damage. Sarah, at the start of the game has already been exposed for 1:53 so she only had 7 seconds she could survive, and didn’t quite make it. She ended up trapped under a collapsed tunnel and although Adair tried to give her CPR, they fell into a kiss instead and were both exposed to the atmosphere.
Cybermen appeared, they fought with the Click-Clacks (the natives) and we all ran away into the tunnels. Yay!

The very cool twist on all of this was that we had invented this problem planet where Adair had (in trying to help) activated their seismic weapons and destroyed the worlds atmosphere. The story had us all coming back to right that wrong, but not in the way you expected. There were powerful crystals that controlled those weapons and preserved the Click-Clack larva, as well as the queen herself.

We decided the only way to fend off the Cybermen was to destroy what they sought, the life preserving crystals. Doing so though, meant killing the queen (as she would die without the crystals).

In the last minute I got my 5th XP and took the “Ring of Truth” vortex move. I tried it on the queen, rolled total crap, and she decided WE were her enemies. She sent her men to attack us and we ended the episode with Sarah, Mentat and Drake back to back to fight off the Click-Clacks, while Adair bravely snuck past them to activated the weapons anyway.


David was using the “Emotional Keys” to handle experience. I’m a big fan of keys in TSoY, and in other games that use them (Lady Blackbird, and our L5R hack), but I didn’t feel like they delivered in Companions. My thoughts.

Justifying them was much harder or at least less frequent than saying “I rolled this stat”. End result I only gained 2 XP from my keys (the others from special moves that gave XP) and everyone else got 0-1 XP from keys. In a four hour game, that advancement is very slow.

Because the keys required some move (any move) associated, some of them were very hard to satisfy. I’m thinking specifically the key of Trust and Fear. Both of those reward you for not doing something, rather than for doing something. I think that is counterintuitive to begin with, PCs rarely want to not take action, so rewards should be for doing things. That was compound by the fact that not doing something is almost never a move (sometimes you might say that staying very still and trying to avoid being caught is “doing something under fire” but there is no guarantee there.

We discussed this somewhat in game, and I think that with some retooling, keys could work better. They need a bias towards action and be easily translatable to a move. Right now they seem independent, but you only get rewarded for using them when a move is involved.

Thoughts on the game

We had a great time. The fact that Adair had inadvertently caused the disaster three years ago and now we were all back to try and fix it had some very nice symmetry.

The premise was a little bit convoluted to me, because as far as I could tell, there was never (or rarely) a time in the show when a bunch of companions got together. I think the game should start with a brief description of the status quo and then make a strong point of the contrast of the game vs. the show based on the disappearance of the Doctor.

This is a nitpick, but as playing someone who’s strong stat was “Appeal”, I was disappointed that there were no moves that were solely under the providence of “Appeal”. Sure, “Appeal to Emotion” worked with Appeal, but Appeal to reason did the same thing and worked with Clever. Sure, not every argument can be made with reason (or with a threat of force, which was another way to use the move) but it did feel like my primary stat had really one third of a move at best, while other stats had up to two that were all their own.

Actual Play – Day After Ragnarok (4/21/2012)

GM: Andrew Linstrom
Players: Morgan Ellis, Will Huggins, Karen Twelves, Vernon Lingley, Sean Nittner
System: Savage Worlds – Day after Ragnarok

Andrew wasn’t able to make his Friday night game. Life happened, as it does, and he didn’t get to Nerdly until quite late.  Luckily we’re a flexible bunch and everyone found a home for their Friday night gaming. Never the less Andrew wanted to make up for it, so he offered to run Day After on Saturday morning.

I knew nothing about the setting, but it sounded cool. Then I heard “pulp action done by Ken Hite” and I was sold! Here’s the premise, as I was told in 30 seconds. Late WWII the Nazi’s free the World Serpent. To prevent it from destroying the world, we nuked the hell out of it. If died and fell across the western portions of Europe and Africa and leaked out radioactive poison that mutated everything around it.  Even dead, it threatens the world. The thing is 100 miles high and affects weather patterns all over the world! Booya!

Oh… and to make our characters, we first make Lego miniatures and then Andrew quickly made the character sheet. I was in love!


I quickly assembled a lego dude with a turban, scimitar and dagger. He was Kalihotep, last son of Ramses, though he never spoke (since the fall) so people just had to deduce all of that from his raised eyebrows and devilish swordplay. A humble merchant before the fall, Kalihotep lost his family when the serpent fell and crushed the entire city they lived in.  He did not give up hope, however, that his family might be alive. He had heard rumors of ancient civilizations that our modern cities were built on top of. Perhaps if they collapsed during the fall, his family might be alive… trapped under the belly of the beast!

Not bad for lego man.

Morgan played a gangster with a tommy gun and a dapper suit. Will was a heavy, equipped with a giant gun with an axe bayonet and dynamite. Vernon was the Aussie Chuck Norris. Bare chested, katana’s strapped on his back, practicing kangaroo form and with a code of non-violence. Karen played the devilishly sexy fighter pilot, quick on the draw and quick with the ladies.

A quick intro

After all our characters were made, we didn’t have a lot of time to play, so Andrew started us off in a dog fight. Karen’s pilot (who flew a cargo plane named Lucy) was flying, chased down by the Phantom Ace (a sky pirate) and two interceptors. This was really a scene of show off how awesome you are. The phrase “yeah you do” was said several times as we each showed our characters fending off the Ace and his men.  Karen did trick flying, Morgan shot things up with the mounted gun. Will tossed dynamite. Vernon did kangaroo kung fu. I dueled with mooks and eventually the ace on the wing of Lucy. Scimitar vs. Rapier. Scimitar wins!

This scene was fun, but it did illustrate a less than cool part of the Savage Worlds game. There is no fail condition. It’s just a null result. I swing with my sword and miss… nothing happens. I tried to up the ante myself, indicating that I missed with sword and in doing so lost my balance, how I was hanging from the edge of the wing! Still, that didn’t stop any of us from describing ourselves as the awesome.

The lovely Meskinet

It turned out the Phantom Ace was chasing us because we stole something form him, the lovely Meskinet. A woman bedecked in jewels that was not only beautiful but one of the few alive that could use the jewels to protect herself and those around her from the corrupting energy of the World Serpent. We were going in!

Karen’s pilot landed us at a base camp. The Ace flew off, defeated but not broken, and we met with a stodgy academic who did all the necessary exposition to put us into the action. We were going to blow a hole in the snake,  and with the protection from Meskinet and the jewels, enter the Serpent and explore.

We played as far as getting to an underground necropolis with ancient dwarves that had enslaved mummies but then it was time to break for lunch.

Thoughts on this game

We played it extremely pulpy, but as I understand it, you can go for more grit as well.

Our characters were caricatures, but for a one hour game, that’s all you really need.

Andrew was great at expanding on what we said to unveil the story. He went with a few prompts from all of us to create an exciting and very genre apporopriate story.

We found a new breed of red shirts: college students. One strayed a little too far from Meskinet and was sucked into the innards of the Serpent. We made sure the camera got a good look at his face before we lost him, so we’d all recognize him when he came back as part of the zombie horde. Yay!

Actual Play – Damascus Falls (4/20/2012)

Apocalypse GalacticaGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Jeff Pedersen, Paul Tevis, Josh Roby, and David Gallo
System: Apocalypse World
Hack: Apocalypse Galactica

This was the first AG game that I’ve run that I was unhappy with. So rather than talk a lot about what happened, I’m going to discuss the play, and where I saw hiccups along the way, and how I’m going to try and make it better.

Playing outside in the dark

I didn’t know what to expect out of gaming at Nerdly. I assumed that there would be some provisions for how to game while outside and in the dark. What I got was a a picnic table with holes in them middle that I just knew all my XP tokens were going to fall through (they are small), and a whole lot of dark and cold. This ended up working out okay. I had a lantern and Paul brought one as well. I also put a tablecloth on the table that made for a nice flat surface. Folks were able to read well enough by the light they had and we were all comfortable. As the game progressed though I got colder and colder. First in my feet and then all over. I don’t know if it affected my ability to MC, but it wasn’t comfortable.

Plan for next time: Tablecloth for sure. Bring a few lanterns. Wear warmer clothes. Have a warm drink (coffee, hot chocolate, etc) in a thermos.

Communicating Cause and Effect

There were several times in the game where Paul in particular, but I believe the other players as well weren’t sure of why things where happening, or what the effects of things were.  This is partially do to the way Apocalypse World handles misses. Just because you roll 6- on the roll doesn’t mean something immediately happens to you, it often may mean something else happens outside your perception. I like to announce future badness a lot. So, for instance when the commander left his XO to handle damage control and rolled a weak hit when “acting under fire”, the result was the XO did put out the fire on the Battlestar, but airlocked three engineers to do so. What I presented was the sounds of the XO yelling “I don’t care of they are still in there, shut that bulkhead before we lose the whole ship” and then told the President to mark population down by 3.

This is a legitimate AW move, and Vincent directs you to make a move but  hide what it is. Engineers dying wasn’t an immediate problem (I mean other than the loss of life in an already nearly extinct population) but it was a lead up to bigger problems (ships needing to be fixed and not having enough deck hands to do all the work). So all an all, I feel good about the move, but Paul mentioned that not only was the outcome of his action unclear, it was unclear that there was and outcome to his action.

Later, when Josh’s president was trying manipulate Paul’s commander and I said “do what he wants and you get an XP, don’t do it and you’re acting under fire.” He had to ask what that meant several times before I felt like I explained both the mechanical and in-fiction narrative effect adequately.

Plan for next time: Paul actually gave really good advice on teaching a system in a HGWT episode many moons back. Explain the options and then give examples. In the case of a board game he said, for instance “You can move your piece 1 space up, down, right, or left, but not diagonally. So, you can move it here, here, here, or here, but not here, here, here or here.”  I think I need I was lacking in the example side of things. During the manipulate roll, I should have said. “The president just told you to step down, else the fleet will rebel. She is offering you an experience point if you do it, and if you don’t that means your acting under fire. In the fiction this means that you take a tough blow but learn something about yourself, and the people you protect if you step down. If you don’t the president’s influence is going to create heat and someone inside the military is going to challenge your authority. To maintain it, you’ll have to earn their respect gain and roll+cool.”

Players separated

Jeff’s character, the Activist, didn’t have direct interaction with the other PCs until very late in the game. In fact, it wasn’t until he was dead, resurrected as a Cylon, and we saw a second copy of him on the fleet, that he actually talked to another player. And that was the second to the last scene in the game.

So the players were set up as antagonistic to each other. They all wanted different things and were all equipped to push very hard for them. Jeff’s activist, in particular was trying to topple the government. A perfect goal given that the other three characters were all part of that government. On this surface this setup seemed perfect. It reminded me of the Gift where I assumed that all of the external threats would take a back seat to PCs differences.

This worked, by degree. The activist sent his people to go do things and mess with the president and the commander. All cool, but it meant for me speaking on behalf of the activist, rather than the player doing it. This was weird. If pulled a lot of the intensity out of the situation. My general rule of thumb is that if a PC asks an NPC to do something that is really important, the NPC will do it wrong. Not necessarily failing, but somehow missing their intent. I only do this when PCs are abdicating responsibility. A PC wants to lead his troops into battle, that’s cool. Make a leadership roll and they’ll kick but. But if a PC wants to send to troops off to fight without him, and the main focus of the game is that fight, then the NPCs is going to do something the PC doesn’t want so they have to step in. It may be a cheat, but it works. In this case the NPC was a zealot. She didn’t want the change to happen in degrees, she wanted it ALL RIGHT NOW. This eventually put Jeff’s activist at odds with his own members (a perfect reason to use the “Crime Lord” move) but still didn’t bridge the gap between PCs.

Plans for next time: Do a little more discussion before hand of how the PCs are connected to make sure that frame scenes with any or all of them is possible. That way if two PCs haven’t been in a scene together, anyone (player or MC) can start a scene with them together without having to do mental gymnastics (like we did with the Cylon rebirth.


This seems really, really dumb, but I didn’t read my own move. At one point Paul’s commander was held up at gunpoint by the president who had wrestled his gun from him. Paul wanted to look for an answer by taking a leap of faith. He did it, and rolled well. And then I flubbed.  The move reads “…describe your experience, in brief or in full about the nature of things. On a hit, the MC will seize on something you’ve said and elaborate on your insight.”

What I didn’t do was ask Paul to describe his experience, and further, I didn’t ask any follow up questions to find out what he was getting at. I just assumed he wanted a way out of the situation to keep his status in tact. And what I gave him was weak sauce. “Be friends and people will follow you.” That isn’t even horrible advice, but it could have at least been delivered with some specific leverage “The president needs this, offer it to her and you can both get what you want.”

Plans for next time: Well the obvious is to read my own move. The not as obvious is to add in “The MC will ask you a question or two”, which will leave me leeway to clarify if the description given to me doesn’t lead to any specific advice.

One dimensional struggles

A pervasive theme through the game was characters that had no empathy for each other. Many of them interacted only on a hierarchical level, trying to assert dominance and authority over each other.  This quickly became stale as the characters all wanted to be king of the hill and had no reason to relent.

Plan for next time: Make sure the Hx creates relationships that go beyond the obvious of where characters fit in a social hierarchy. Make sure the have emotional connections to each other.

Also it’s worth considering only offering either the President or the Commander, but not both. That way there aren’t two dogs wrestling over the same bone all game.

Game improvements

The players pointed out a few things the game needs:

A move to form a connection with someone. Something that happens all the time in the show and isn’t seduce or manipulate. I’m looking at the way strings work in Mosnterhearts and considering what else I should take out or change to make room for it.

The president’s moves are too abstract. They operate on the Crisis (Front) clocks and not in the immediate fiction. I’ve got to revamp that playbook to be more actionable, especially in the short term.  That also means taking the Crisis Clocks back to the MC side of the table, which I think is probably a good idea anyway, it was too much paperwork for a player.

The president needs to be operating on a scarcity of good will. I think the campaigns can offer that (any of them that is in want indicates a lack of good will) but I will need to revisit them to make sure they are tuned to do that. Also, the president should have an obligation campaign of  “health”, to emulate the cancer Laura had (if someone wants to do that).

The commander playbook works great for playing a hard as hell Saul type, but not so well for a moderate Adama character. There should be some more flexibility to create that.

More playbooks should have fewer moves automatically selected and more options. Right now a good half of the characters have moves pre-selected and only get to choose one or two. I should probably try to have no more than one move built in and give more options. Options are fun.

Not a total flop

For all that the game wasn’t a total flop. The President took the commander by gunpoint. The activist/Cylon crashed the Condor into the Battlestar Argonaut and blew the hell out of both of them. The CAG released her viper pilots to destroy the ship that had the activist (that she loved) on it. We saw Cylon red spine in the brig sex. And at the last moment, the president was killed by the XO and the commander jumped the fleet with a known threat amongst them because we found at the very last moment… he was a Cylon too!

 Thoughts on this game

While I was disappointed with it in terms of performance, I learned a lot from it. I doubt there will be another opportunity for it, but if I had a time machine I’d like to run this game again, with those thoughts in mind and see how it would go.