Actual Play – Big carrots and big problems (9/5/2015)

the warrenGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Liz Gorinsky, Shawn Roske, Jenn Martin, Strix Beltrán, and Ajit George
System: The Warren
World: abingdon meadow

Ohh.. the troubles of abingdon meadow. Not only have the golden years passed by the barlydown warren, but civil strife was also immanent. The junkers, a warren of rabbits that lived scattered through a junkyard had been plotting against them. They planned to unleash the hounds of death on their neighbors so they could claim their precious warren and it’s proximity to the Brooklyn farmer’s market that took place every week, where the humans would mysteriously appear across the hedge grove and unload a bounty of delights, seemingly for any brave rabbit to take. An emissary (under false pretenses?) Barley (Shawn) was now living in the warren.

Even withing Barleydale (sometimes Barleydown) their was tension. Ash (Strix) was the premiere rabbit, praised for her long body and incredible speed, but increasingly testing the patience of Wintergreen as avoided breeding and thus did not help the warren grow. Meanwhile Birch (Ajit) was a veteran who had the esteem of the common rabbit for his bravery and the bounty he brought the warren, but was never noticed by the powers that be. So Birch, with his compact body and missing ear, was relegated as a second class rabbit, despite his contributions to the warren.

There were more moderate rabbits, which still had stories of their own. Yarrow (Liz) with his long body and unusual blue tint in his fur was seen as both exotic and a potential threat. His father was unknown, presumably a passing rabbit in the night. The suspicious members of Barleydale (most of them) wondered if that too heralded some kind of invasion.  Yarrow had spent times with the humans and understood many of their rituals.  He was valued as the only human whisperer.

Amidst this sea of political tension and external threats was a single calm rabbit Foxglove (Jenn) who seem to bear and unearthly calm. One which buttercup admired to an almost fanatical level, and which Poppy thought was extremely dangerous: “Rabbit’s shouldn’t be calm. Calm equals dead. The first thing a rabbit should ever think is run!” Considering the litter she was about to birth, Foxglove’s calm would do the warren well!

And of course there was Cottontail, a newcomer to the warren, just eager to stir shit up!

The situation

Is it day or night or somewhere in the middle? Early morning

Why are you all so far away from the warren? Birch has just returned from a raid on the humans with the largest carrot any rabbit has ever seen. (Yarrow would know, it was a prize winning carrot!)

How did the hunters get between you and the warren? The hounds Leslie and Cadby had broken out of junkyard (thanks Birch, for stirring up that hornet’s nest before the junkers we ready to use them) and were giving chase. They HATED rabbits. Hated them so much!

What other animal shares your hiding spot? A baby fox, dropped by it’s mother who was also fleeing the sounds of the dogs.


The Play is the thing

In a panic, so many things happened. Ash, bravely ran across the gravel road into the farmer market in order to lead Cadby off in a merry chase.

Leslie however, was tearing and gnashing at the hedges, and was about to push through. Birch whipped up the fox kit in his mouth and threw it to Leslie, to distract her. There was some serious rabbit debate over this. Yarrow being sure the fox kit could be raised by the rabbits and grow up to be their friend. Birch confident that once big enough it would be their predator. Plus, better it than them!

When Leslie did break free (that debate used up the precious time they had) another sacrifice was thrown before her, this time Barley! The other rabbits ran to the abandoned fox den and hid until Leslie had given up the chase.

Meanwhile Ash, with Cadby on his tail, raced through the farmers market, knocking over the award winning apple pie and causing all sorts of commotion, when he was finally caught. Two mighty timbers that stood just lest than rabbit length apart, seemed like just the place to jump through to lose Cadby, but when the did not budge, Ash was caught by a very confused human apple pie judge. He fought and he fought and he wiggled and just slipped out, but not before Cadby had nipped and his rear paw, maiming ash, who would never be as swift again.

Barley too was scarred by Leslie, before racing off back to the warren, saved only by the junkyard “armor” that he wore. Metal foil that the dogs hated the taste of!

Political upheavel

As the rabbits returned in different order, different stories were told. That Birch has brought the trouble. That Barley and the junkers had betrayed Barleydown.  That Ash had been caught by the humans. That junkyard armor was needed to protect the rabbits. That Barleydown needed to join the Junkers to survive.

So many dissenting voices made the decision difficult, but after hearing them all except Birch’s (he was told to mind his place), Wintergreen orderd Ash, Barley, and Yarrow on an expedition to the Junkers to find out the truth of these claims!

…and that’s how the first Barleydale and Junker official meeting would occur.


What rocked

Because Ajit was in the game, I knew he would eat up social disparities and political inequality. We got to play with the themes of injustice, but in a much less cemented fashion. Yes, Wintergreen represented the long body political elite, but Birch had many supporters, and it was within the power of our rabbits to overthrow the current system. It wasn’t uprooted completely, but the seeds of unrest and change were clearly sown. The danger of course, would be watching for those eager just to take power them selves (fucking Cottontail). Holding onto the patriarchy lightly made it a fun challenge, without it being overwhelming dogma to cudgel the rabbits with.

Wow. we’ve never had potentially warring warrens before. And to use dogs as your weapon. Evil Barley, just evil.

Ajit and Strix are writing the Balignapalli playset for the Kickstarter campaign, so it was great to not only play the game, but break out what parts were intrinsic to The Warren and what parts were specific to abingdon meadow.

What could have improved

I should have thought of other names for the hound. I took Leslie and Cadby from the playset, but I think we should have had Butchie and Alice instead.

I got a dismissive head shaking from Jason when I told him about Ash, struggling to break free of the human’s grip. By the Morningstar standards Ash was a goner.

I find myself really resistant to resist panic as a move. Even though it fits perfectly with the setting, I really don’t like players having to roll twice to do something. First to resist panic, and then to attempt it. I have the same issue in Apocalypse World, when someone is required to act under fire in order to try something else. In AW this is often ameliorated by the fact that all they have to do is act under fire to achieve their goal. For instance, in a very literal sense, if you’re trying to run from cover into a building but that fuckhead drummer has a rifle trained on you, you’ve got to act under fire to get there without him taking a piece out of you. But in the warren, If Leslie is rooting around in the hedge grove you’re hiding in, you’ve first got to resist panic before you can even attempt to bolt.  Completely makes sense within the fiction, I just don’t like making players roll twice for things.

Actual Play – Abingdon Lost (8/23/2015)

the warrenGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Walter, Dig Vargas, Karen Twelves, and Colby
System: The Warren
World: abingdon meadow

We had a civil uprising in the warren, mating, birthing (not related), rabbits being trapped, rabbits getting lost, discovery of a weasel invasion, a terrifying old tree where winged death perched, a lost kit, an exodus into the forest, two moves innovated (“When you run into the wild” and “When you try to move a litter”), a few scars, a competition which lead to two rabbits maxing out on panic, and lots of angry dogs yelling “Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey, hey!”.

What rocked

Again, such and easy game to play. All we had to do was follow from the moves and watch our rabbits get in trouble. It started with the hunters, but escalated when Bounder got lost, Honey got trapped under hard earth she couldn’t dig through, and together they stumbled weasels trying to dig under the warren.

There was also delicious political divisions. Wintergreen being reviled by most of the player character rabbits (especially Blackberry who envied his amorous relationship with Moonbeam), made it easy for Cottontail to weaken his hold on the warren and cause mass panic at the announcement of weasels.

The old legends of Windtrapper, the rabbit who led rabbits on an exodus across the river and into the forest, never to be seen again, which then we re-incorporated when Blackberry tried to convinced the rabbits to do the same.

Bounder’s fear of the winged death that perched on a tree from across the hedge. Everyone’s fear and curiosity about what was on the other side of the hedge. The missing clan of dark fur and finding out what happened to them!

New Move:

When you run into the wild roll+Shrewd. On a 10+ you find a hiding place in a new area and can find your way back. On a 7-9 you have found a place but choose one.

  • It’s temporary at best.
  • It’s occupied
  • You’re lost

When you move a litter, roll+Strong. On a 10+ they are moved safely. On a 7-9, choose one:

  • The trip is slow and you are exposed to danger.
  • One of the kit is lost or must be given up.

So much good stuff.

What could have improved

I think I belabored the escape from the hunters too much. It took a lot of moves to get free. Eventually it felt like everyone had done plenty to so I elided time till that evening when the hunters had gone home, and taken the dogs with them. I think I could have shortened that significantly by broadening the scope of the moves and being a bit less moment to moment.

I didn’t have the book with me. I was able to do everything off the GM reference sheet except figure out what happens when you hit max panic. I went with pick fight, flight or freeze and then panic resets to zero and you gain a scar. It worked but wasn’t quite right.

Actual Play – World of Abingdon Meadow (7/31/2015)

the warrenGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Phil Vecchione, Tali Halevy, Arvel Ben Dor, John Alexander, and Pamela Alexander
System: The Warren
World: abingdon meadow

This has got to be easiest game in the world to run. I’m serious.

I admit I get anxious every time I run a new game for the first time. Will I get it right? Will I know what to do? Will I entertain my players? These aren’t questions I should ask myself or fret about, but I do.

The Warren (or is the warren?) is Powered by the Apocalypse but so simple and elegant that I didn’t even realize we were really playing until the rabbits were in too deep. I’ll go into that more in a bit, but first, here are our bunnies!

We had Pumpkin the not so fast, Lily the tagged, Nibble the frantic, Spot the brave, and Bounder. From the get go I loved the game because everyone started drawing their rabbits. Tali had some pretty amazing skill and ended up draw both her rabbit Nibble, and her husband Arvel’s rabbit Spot. (Also the two of them were on their honeymoon, which was just wonderful).

Asking some questions

We started with the Warren questions. Things like What part of the meadow marks the warren’s location? What do your sense tell you about the warren? And why aren’t you in charge?

After then answered those, with a positively delightful story about Spot running back from a farmer’s house with hounds of hell chasing him down (told by Nibble) we had a pretty good feel for where the rabbits lived. Then I picked a few of the stakes questions that I was interested in finding out answers to. What things do they prize in the warren? What other animals live nearby? What problems do the humans cause?

All pretty standard fare, right? Right. Yes, but then the situation questions… wow, they just started us off:

Is it night or day or somewhere in between?  It’s day.

Why are you so far away from the warren? We found a really good looking beat and we’re all working on trying to dig it up.

How did the hunters get between you and the warren? Their dogs sniffed us out.

What other animal shares your hiding spot? A chipmunk named Stoat.

And boom, we were off to the races. Nervous Stoat asked the rabbits if they would politely leave his log so the dogs didn’t find them all hiding inside it. Brave Spot bolted to draw their attention. And much terror ensued! What I loved was that all we had to do was ask ourselves “what would happen next?” in order to move the story forward and to keep presenting challenges (terrifying ones at that to the rabbits.


Lily was so scarred by the dogs almost catching her, she’ll never be able to sneak again because she so jumpy now (harm)

Spot innovated a new move “Bite the nose that sniffs you”. When an animal is sniffing it’s nose in your warren (or burrow you’re hiding in) and you bite it, roll strong. On a 10+ it recoils, on a 7-9 it does so but you have to choose one:

  • It will be back soon
  • It remembers you, and will take this personally!
  • It fights before retreating, take a scar.

Spot chose that it would remember him and the dog, Carl Crandon III, shouted in the name of his ancestors that he would drive these awful rabbits from his home it it was the last thing he ever did.

Nibble using her sense of space to find out where a good hiding spot is! Bounder running around in circles around the hunter to try and draw their fire and give the others a chance to bolt!

There was much panic and much bravery. And digging and hiding among the cabbage!


Actual Play – For Olive (8/16/2014)

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

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

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


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

2014-08-16 23.40.46

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

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

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

The Plan

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

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

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

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

Day of Reckoning

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

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

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

Thoughts on this game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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