Archives for category: Role-playing

The following is reproduced from my G+ account, with additional content added at the end.

I Work Hard For The Money
So, I have a job. With my big ol’ college education, I work at a hotel in the audio/visual department. I shouldn’t snark at it, I really like my job, honestly. It’s fun in the weird way that I enjoyed TV Broadcasting in high school and working the Theatre in college — something needs to be done and you have to puzzle together cabling and such to make it happen. My major fears are: they’ll realize/decide I’m more trouble than I’m worth and out the door I go, or I’ll eventually get so good that it won’t be puzzling together sound systems anymore… I’ll just know what I’m doing and it will suddenly be boring.

So, yeah. Can’t just let myself be happy that I’m good at my job, have steady income, roof over my head, and a lovely girlfriend. Gotta be paranoid, man.

Or else.

Game Dump, Project [Amada]
Haven’t done anything game-related in a week or two, my Monsterhearts game non-withstanding. So, here is some semi-mindless game-dump which hasn’t been vetted in any way. Aw yeah, my unadultered musings.

Battlestar Galactica Board Game has resource sliders. I want to steal them and make a mecha wartime RPG like “08th MS Team” or Steel Battalion. Mech combat is about the goal/worry of depleting fuel, bullets, and armor. Lead an enemy on a chase and watch their fuel vanish — but watch out for the mortar fire that is chipping off your armor. Secure resources and refill your tickers, but there’s only so much to go around… people who restock the least get the most XP.

Mech’s get 5 basic dice called Fitness for Duty dice, that are just all-around quality of the mech. Crappy mechs who haven’t been overhauled recently lose FDD as the game goes on. Bonus dice are in the form of, basically, Aspects that are mech Specifications. (“Deep Stealth Module” mechs get bonus dice for sneaking, “SSM Mounting” gives you gobs of dice for blowing up other mechs) Keeps it loosey-goosey but still has some detail built into it. Activate your Specs by spending the appropriate of Fuel, Bullets, and Armor.

Something-something-something removes FDD. But seriously, something like you can ignore the damage from an Armor hit by giving up an FDD and detailing how critical systems are harmed when the damage blows-through, bypassing the majority of your armor in a lucky shot. Why would you do that? Well, maybe you think being blind is better than being armorless, or you weren’t planning on shooting back anyway, etc. FDD reflect Weapons Control, Comms/Sensors, Life Support, Locomotion, and something else I’m totally blanking on at the moment.

Making bitchin’ maps would be baller for this game, so you could chart your wartime campaign overtime. Smaller maps should be sketched up hastily for conflicts, and divided into quadrants based on terrain — like, draw a dividing line along where a cliff side drops away to a settlement, or draw a dividing line around some thick woods. I figure you can totally set fuel costs in small increments on terrain movement (so players can plan their sieges and such and someone can bang on the table and shout “We don’t have the resources, dammit!”)

As characters, I figure they’ll probably have stuff I guess since that’s what players like apparently. Pfft. But seriously, I’m hand-wobbling on this at the moment (that deep level of thought where you just kind of weigh your hands back and forth a lot, ya know?) I had this whole gritty d100 idea with scary combat and armor and cover being vital and choosing to take battlescars capping the damage you’re taking so players had some control over how lethal things got. But ya know what, no one likes d%s not even Mama d% and besides d% doesn’t even jive with the ideas listed above unless I decided to explode everything up to the 100s level?

And I don’t think anyone wants the unnecessary book-keeping of “Spend 20 Fuel to maneuver through these shitty woods,” “Spend 40 Fuel to pursue the enemy.” That whole extra 0 just gets annoying because you’ll never find any numbers used between 10s.

I know I want characters to have Knacks and Flaws or some nonsense. Your Knack is some niche-protection. What you want them to specialize in during play, basically your character concept. Your Knack makes you the default author of minutia and things relating to it and the narrative as well as some rerolls probably. Your Flaw is obviously something crappy. It also gives you bonus dice. Wait what? Well, because I want the players to cut the game away to scenes of their characters problems, so when they frame that scene, they get bonus dice on their next challenge. Flaws have ranks that fluctuate through play, increasing or decreasing the number of times you can draw on your Flaw bonus per session.

(Honestly that last paragraph just sounds like I’m trying to reinvent Aspects and doing a terrible job of it so that paragraph can probably just go right to hell and rent a room, but actually I’ll probably keep it in a Trash Document to mine later).

So, looks like I’m tinkering with a game that is a bit of resource-management tucked into some dice-rolling. Okay. I’m okay with those play elements. Also, I should stop writing this because those d%s are starting to look mighty pretty right now, and I won’t wish that evil on anyone.

New Thoughts
The above was all taken from a post I made on my G+ account the other day, so I figure I’ll dump some additional commentary down here and see where it takes me.

The exact thought process behind wanting to go through with this game idea is to address some of my feelings towards The Aegis Project by John Wick. I like John Wick’s work, but it has this tendency to veer towards non-playability as in his game Cat. Cat is unplayable. It is broken — it calls for mechanics that aren’t explained elsewhere in the document, for example. But John Wick has great ideas, you see, and I love that. However, I cannot play The Aegis Project with the number of errors present in the text, unless I had a print copy to go in and write out my own edits.

So apparently I decided the thing to do was make up my own mech wargame? Not the intelligent, calculated reaction by any means — but I wanted a project to tackle. So, for now, it’s just a fun little distracting project.

What I want to do: provide options for military roles and civilian roles; paint a picture of guerrilla-style conflict or “facts on the ground” play; mess around with a new system and work on my mechanic-building chops; focus on the conflict of Need vs Have.

We’ll see where I go with this!


“Snuggle Up and Get Real Sad, Up-Ins”
It’s a thing my friends and I say, specifically in response to the The Tales of Ba-Sing-Se episode of “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” That episode will make you bawl and if it doesn’t, everyone is entitled to question whether or not you are — in fact — a Cyberman. It has evolved since then as a catch-all response to an episode or situation we expect to be emotionally taxing. It has been used to describe episodes of “Battlestar Galactica” and more recently “Being Human.” To a degree, it’s a phrase that gets used when we know we’re going to see a lot of intra-character drama… not exclusively, perhaps, but we expect that for the most part we’re going to have character’s exposing their hearts to one another and revealing their internal strife. This is fine and dandy and highly effective (in my opinion) when presenting a narrative to an audience. There is a question to raise here, though: how does this practice — of revealing internal drama to other characters for the benefit of the audience — jive with tabletop role-playing?

Illusion of the First Time
It’s a thing my girlfriend the Theatre Major/actor/director/stage manager has brought up before when discussing actors’ performances. The phrase is apparently associated with William Gillette according to a quick and dirty Google search, but I can’t guarantee that — it has to do with, no matter how many times you stage a scene, it should always appear to be the first time that your character is making discoveries. This can become tricky immediately in role-playing games. Infamous scenes come to mind — scenes of a split party reunited, and since the entire party was at the table when events happened they simply gloss over the story to told. Not necessarily a problem, unless one of the characters is supposedly learning some pressing information from this.

That said, the exact opposite is equally possible — I’m sure many Game Masters and players out there can whip up impressive stories of emotional bombs dropped and revelations had: the villain was your father all along, you’ve been concealing your real class/race/identity from the party all along, and so forth. I’m sure they work and are fun for everyone. I can specifically recall, from my own experience, a stretch of Dungeons & Dragons in which I played a Monk whom everyone regarded as a monk. He was primarily a pacifist, and the game did not last long enough to warrant the complete unhinged fury of Flurry of Blows… but my point is made, I think. Secrets are fun. Reveals are fun.

Aristotle had plenty to say on the subject: basically, we feel really clever when we think we’ve figured something out or when we think we’re understanding.

No Such Thing As Filler
So, what am I trying to get at: the idea of the game-as-conversation or conversation-as-game; having something to talk about when you sit down at the table and sit down into character. The great and forever-lovable Apocalypse World specifically refers to the event of role-playing as “conversation,” with the players’ and Game Master’s duty being to speak when it is his or her own turn. It even considers most of the Game Master’s job to be as “simple” as preparing interesting things to say.

On the surface, this is a simple idea: do your prep work and you’re ready to go. What does this mean? Have your dungeon maps so you can talk about positioning; your aesthetic, so you can talk about pungent mildew collecting on skulls; your stat blocks, so you can talk about claws and venom; your sketches, so you can reference claws and venom sacs; have your NPCs ready, so they can say things that matter. This all seems to be on the Referee though… what about the players?

Well, theoretically: players should be ready to detail the super awesome stylings of their characters. That is, they should be ready to rogue it up as the Zorro-in-residence or hack up some baddies in a truly wizard Conan impression, etc. They should be ready to play their characters… shouldn’t they? Just as players would probably feel a little disheartened by a Ref who scrawled the night’s dungeon on a Cheetos-stained napkin, shouldn’t a Ref be entitled to feeling blue about players who don’t care about playing up their character? Or is that unfair and inappropriate? Or, worse, is it automatically indicative of the Ref’s own failings? I don’t really think it is… I believe a shoddy Ref can put a damper on anyone getting deep into the story and having things they want to say, but I don’t think players without interested in characterization scenes are automatically a result of a bad Ref.

I would hazard a guess that people get really into their characters when they believe they have something to say… by extension, I would assume people do not get into their characters if they believe they have nothing to say. Characters in vacuum receive less characterization than those in a context, I think.

Distill this down: The “problem” — if there is a problem, and I don’t know that there is — is that these scenes of downtime, these scenes of conversation, these scenes of personality bubbling up from beneath your character’s mechanics are what separate the role-playing game from the board game or the war game. Without characterization, you seem to be playing from fight scene to fight scene with nothing of any worth, story-wise, to sink your teeth into.

Cue Characterization Scene: I Apologize
To clarify, I’m not saying this model of moving from fight scene to fight scene or what have you is bad or doesn’t produce good stories; I’m wondering how to give teeth, to give really gravitas to personal scenes of individual discovery or interpersonal exploration, or quiet moments spent together. Is that impossible? Is this idea simply contrary to the constraints of the medium that is “Cooperative Mechanized Fiction,” or whatever title with which you want to saddle role-playing games? Well, I can think of a few that I hold in high regards because of the intelligence that has gone into giving “quiet moments” a real place.

My Life With Master stands out specifically in the way it mechanizes “things to talk about” through a back and forth, escalating dice mechanic. More simply put (because that sentence, in retrospect, looks tedious): MLWM will give you bonus dice of increasing size if you, in order, bring up physical or intimate contact – emotional overtures – true, genuine sincerity. The intrinsic message is “You will have the chance to roll more successfully if you have characterization right now.” Pull on someone’s lapels, discuss a meal, appreciate music, weep uncontrollably, and so forth. Here is your bonus die.

I suppose Primetime Adventures is worth mentioning, given that its mechanics are simplistic and applicable enough to elevate even casual conversation to hyper-relevance. I blush from its inclusion however, in that it specifically wants every scene to be a conflict — this is good for it. It is emulating television and that is good design, but it disallows the “quiet moments” or scenes of which I’m talking. Breathing room. Emotional space.

What about my current one and only, Apocalypse World? Surely it must no I’m going to stop this sentence right here, no it doesn’t. It offers legitimate mechanical incentive to get to know one another, yes I will admit — but this has actually only offered headaches to my group, as they rarely feel they have learned about one another. The only times they feel like their intimacy has changed have been: meeting the new PC in a bar fight, and attempts on one another’s followers’ lives. They have shared scenes before, they have shared agendas before… but by and large, conversation is not a thing that happens. Sitting and sipping seagull wine on the fence is not a scene. The players don’t need to make scenes to report information to one another, because all too often they’ve been sitting at the table the whole time and it feels silly.

(The easy response here is “invent bad news for one player to give to another!” but I feel that falls to closely on the “ref is at fault” mentality that I don’t think is fair in discussing quiet moments in gaming).

My friend has a hack of AW that is coming together, called The Boy and the Girl, which is relevant to this discussion at least slightly. It is a two-player game meant to emulate Person A saves Person B and is on the run fiction… your Princess Brides and your ICOs. In the game, the relationship between the characters can become strained, and for the most part it takes these kinds of quiet moments I’m talking about to calm it down and keep it manageable.

Monsterhearts
Most recently, in playing Joe McDaldno’s fantastic Monsterhearts, the moments of ‘relationship talk’ have been prevalent… and I would hope so, as that is the aim of this product: to create interpersonal moments for characters to be involved in and react to. I’ve observed a couple of really interesting things about the way it handles this. For one, within the mechanics, one can stick other characters with Conditions that can be used to great benefit when rolling against someone — and that can be automatically removed when actions have been taken to deal with them. There are no mechanics behind this rule specifically; the removal of Conditions is completely up in the air, with specific cases for when other mechanics bring it up.

Okay why does this matter: because it suddenly gives teeth to the pep talk, to crying it out, to getting a make-over, to getting a haircut, to going on a date, to going on a camping trip, to watching the sun rise, to … all of these are questionable scenes. Some gamers would scoff at spending time on them when “nothing is happening,” while others would play them to their heart’s content knowing that, honestly, nothing is happening. In Monsterhearts, if I have the Condition “Workaholic” then I want to narrate that social scene that reveals to the players no, I’m not, see? By design or not, quiet moments have impressive power to transform the advantages and disadvantages facing your character.

Before I forget, this sort of thing extends also to Healing in the game. You can heal one point of Harm simply by saying so (and probably by explaining how it happens). However, you can heal an extra point of Harm but only through the tender, intimate care of another person… possibly with sensual subtext. I read that as someone patching you up with no regard for you doesn’t particularly count; I read that as you need someone who treats you emotionally as well as physically. I especially read it as a small challenge to the player-in-question, in that the Ref can offer an extra point of healing on a string if the character accepts/reciprocates their healer’s advances/innocent interest.

Quiet moments with teeth. The moments in your book, TV show, or movie where suddenly, instantly, its become about a real person with quirks and decision-making and fallibility whom you care about. It isn’t just movement and action anymore. It’s that and more.


Let’s dive right in without any time spent rambling about this, that, or the other! The question/issue/thought of the day is: empowering with mechanics the narrator’s otherwise strictly narrative responsibilities/powers.  So, some musings that I wound up generating as part of my work on my Free RPG Day-inspired creation [preston] (I’ve decided! Name the things I’m working on with film references!) that I’m — well, I’m a little proud of, to be honest. Is it original? With all of the games out there, I doubt it. But, that doesn’t change that I had just a bit of fun concocting this.

The Land of Lakes and Rivers
Prefacing thought: I love wuxia; I love martial arts films. I love those stories about societal outcasts being the only ones who can set things right — the only ones who can establish any actual justice in a land dominated by corrupt officials, and groups or individuals bent on taking advantage of the meek. In these stories, there is a concept known as the jianghu that pulls double duty in that it refers to: 1) the sub-culture of outcasts, heroes, and wanderers that populate these stories and the associated temples, clans, and the like… and 2) the actual setting or world in which the wuxia stories take place. These are both known as “the land of lakes and rivers.” Jianghu. This second one is the cool one as far as we are concerned.

The point of this is to create a mechanical incentive towards plots and stories that can serve to add extra flavor to conflicts or encounters, by granting bonuses as rewards to players for going along with your ideas — and granting bonuses to antagonists on behalf of the problems and distractions that arise from these subplots. In effect, players always have the option in moments of stress to get the extra edge they need… but this means introducing extra danger, intrigue, and conflict further down the storytelling line.

So… pull out a sheet of paper when you start your game, and collect a whole mess of dice of whatever sizes you want. You’re gonna scrawl some circles on this sheet of paper, and sketch some lines branching off of these circles too. Once your piece of paper has: circles, lines, and piles of dice then you are ready to proceed, basically.

Guidelines that are little educational: Let the number of dice be indicative of how exclusive or inclusive you want a plot point to be (ie, in a group of five, you want multiples of 5 to include everyone; in a group of 5, a multiple of 1 will likely restrict involvement to a single player) — and let the size of the dice represent how enticing/pervasive/likely to occur you figure the plot point is (ie, d4s for something small, and upwards for greater import).

Landscaping Your Plots
The circles you draw should be labelled with the identities of groups or individuals that are relevant to your game; Antagonists or antagonistic groups, basically! These circles should be thought of as your Lakes — great bodies of water from which many rivers flow, and many stories spring! Take arrangements of your dice, and group them within these circles… 1d4, 1d6, 1d8 or whatever you’d like. Again, number of sides to entice the players, and number of dice to allow/restrict access. Dump these dice into the circles in prearranged groups. This is important, though: the total number of groups is also going to indicate, to a degree, how long the plots are going to linger… because when the lake has dried up, the antagonist has gotten their way.

example
There’s a Narrator who’s decided that, hey, his Big Bad Corporation is going to be responsible for some stuff in the game! He figures, I’ve got some really fun ideas so I want to bribe everyone to play along, and I really like the idea of making it the kind of plots that only a couple people can get in on… the Narrator draws a circle labeled Big Bad Corporation and puts three groups of 2d8 within. Three people can nab these dice, on the condition that they further implement the Narrator’s plot and antagonist, and get bonuses for it! But later on, the Narrator is within his rights to roll these dice as bonuses for his Antagonist as plans come to fruition!

Ok, but wait — how do we get this water flowing? How do we move these dice off of their host antagonists and showcase their influences in the character’s lives? These are those lines you draw branching off from the circle on your piece of paper. These lines are your rivers. Scribble down plot seeds on these lines. This is you making story offers to your players, letting them know what you have in mind, and casting a wide storytelling net. You let the players make their own decisions about what subplots to bring into play — and you get to see what they actually care about! There isn’t anything special here to explain: scrawl down plot seeds connected to your piles of dice. When people grab those dice, these are their choices.

example
The Narrator has some ideas, and he throws them down on paper. Underneath his Big Bad Corporation circle loaded with three groups of 2d8, he jots down: “A briefcase whose contents people will kill over.” With only three groups of dice, this seems like an okay plot seed… Players will be able to get their 2d8 by narrating the infamous briefcase into their character’s life, and antagonists will benefit from this and likewise receive dice. One all three sets of dice are gone from the lake, whatever plans the Big Bad Corporation had centered around the briefcase will be fulfilled! Time to make some new plot seeds that expand on this.

Relation to [preston]
I’m using this concept in [preston], basically verbatim to what I’ve typed here, with the only real change being that characters will have a trait about them that allows players to deflect the penalty dice onto NPCs that are critical to the character in question… sparing themselves the harm and bad luck, but risking those dearest to them.

Drama abounds.

So, yeah. That’s my idea for supplying a mechanical incentive for pursuing and elaborating on plot threads that narrators may be interested in, without actually railroading players — it lets you weave subplots, as the benefits, detriments, and subplots gradually appear over time and begin to collect in the character’s lives. Feel free to leave any thoughts, comments, or questions because as always I love to hear from anybody who reads this blog — and of course, I am always reachable at alfred_rudzki[at]yahoo[dot]com.


Apparently tomorrow is kind of a cool day! It snuck up on me, but the time has come for Free RPG Day. That’s all well and good of course — you’ll never find me saying no to free games or a holiday revolving around that idea — but I sadly don’t have any nearby store that is participating, so it looks like I’ll have to sit this one out. A shame! Of course, it doesn’t help my involvement any that I am already 100% occupied tomorrow.

The Dark Knight Rises is shooting downtown y’see, and I do believe I’ll be down there messing around and probably taking pictures for my own amusement! They’re casting Extras and I don’t suspect they’ll choose me by any long-shot, but I might as well get out there and take a look at things, yeah? Besides, I’ll bring a bag, some materials, and I’ll spend the 8 hours I’m waiting working on gaming stuff in the lobby of a glitzy hotel! Sounds pretty cool to me. I could go for a change of scenery at this point.

Work Work Work
It’s really surprising how quickly this idea of mine went from “I love games!” to “Wow, games are work!” but I think I’ve lucked out in one particular regard: I’ve been having fun. There’s really no other way to put it, honestly. Despite all of the writing, despite all of the complaining to myself about mathematics, probabilities, genres, themes, “the promise of premise” and more — I’ve been having a blast being hip deep in this work. And I think that is incredibly to my own benefit. I’ve been writing a lot more and that is always a blast for me — I’ve been blogging here, and I’ve been getting my creative juices flowing in the PBP game of My Life With Master I’m Narrating for; hell, I’ve also gotten to enjoy the narrative spoils of testing out Vendetta although I’ve recently slacked on that. Add to that the chance I have to talk about Houses of the Blooded as the chance to play that crops up frequently with my friend Adam, and that he and I took a break from Wick’s incredible game of ven tragedy to give Remember Tomorrow a try… you’ll see I’ve been having the time of any dice-chucker’s life this past month.

I’ve played unfamiliar board games, alien card games, and experimented with ways to manipulate storytelling more recently than ever before. My head has been pounding with ideas, with concepts, with a metric ton of things I constantly feel the desperate need to get down on paper lest I lose them. I’ve been following game designers on twitter, which lead directly to me discovering a really fantastic humanitarian effort — and when I haven’t been doing that, I’ve been scanning blogs, reading design diaries, talking to people. I’ve been specializing, I guess, and so my knowledge and perspective have deepened and spread like roots. It’s been amazing, is what it’s been. I don’t really have any other way of putting it. It’s transformed a lot of ways I’ve been thinking about things — or expanded it at the very least.

Nothing super special to say today, honestly. Just a day spent looking back and being really happy.

Also, I have a present for all of you out there. Stay tuned!


So I failed to post the last couple days, but I have been working — I’ve been typing away like a storm!

A storm with a keyboard!
A storm with a keyboard and a definite, directed intelligence!
And hands.

Some general housekeeping here, first things first and all of that jazz. Scrolling all the way down to the bottom of the blog will reveal that I have rearranged the gadgets in the bottom border. For now you will find Blogroll, Archives, and the Search function all snuggled up in the middle column. This is all subject to change once I start padding out my Blogroll probably! But for now, everything is roughly symmetrical and so my brain can sleep easy. Oh, but wait! You’ll notice now occupying the left column is a twitterfeed! Yes, I have twitter, and I went ahead and cleared it out of nonsense and updated its name and URL to bring it in line with the 20Facets blog. The username for that is @20Facets and I can of course be searched by Alfred Rudzki, or you can always just follow it here as it appears on the blog as a snippet of gaming thoughts and nonsense as I follow some of the names in role-playing. I’ll probably just be using it whenever I have a thought that doesn’t quite justify a whole blog post — although, to date, I think I’ve managed to wring blood from stones when it comes to incredibly thread-bare topics… for good or for bad, really.

Speaking of Rambling Unduly
So, on this computer of mine I have a folder which contains all of the RPG PDFs I own. Included in there is a folder for the projects that I’m working on, including a folder for Children Who Play With Monsters in which I have all of the notes I have written up, jotted down, charted out, slapped together, scribbled, or typed into being — most of which I went ahead and showed off here last month when I gave a breakdown of how I would go about building a character and handling conflict. Sure, there’s a little more in there — I have the beginnings of a table of contents which I’m using as a sort of check list of what I feel I need to write about. It’s led to me producing detailed listings of the options for Allowances, Problems at Home, Problems at School, and such. It’s useful for working on what to put into a test module that others could use to provide feedback. Since then, I’ve been agonizing over how to fit all of it together to produce some sort of meaningful end-game…

I suppose I’ve been doing this because, honestly, I don’t see Children Who Play With Monsters being about the Big Bad or the Vast Evil or the Immutable Tide, the Nothing, The Darkness, The Splicers, The Reckoning, The Black King, The Tar Aliens or whatever. Are they important? Yes. They are undeniably important. Maybe I should have written about this earlier, but I didn’t and maybe for that I should be ashamed — the Child who has fled from home cannot flee into a stable fantasyland. I mean, okay, you could try and pull that, but you would defeat half of the point in these stories… The Child has to leave behind a home where they connect with no one, and enter a world where they are almost singly the most important in the history of the realm. They must be the Chosen One, the Daughters of Eve, that-guy-who-winds-up-with-the-AURYN. They have to move from neglect and pigeonholing into admiration and being the mold from which heroes are expected to spring, basically. It’s kind of a ridiculous weight, but it’s what the Children get when they enter the fantasyland — because it’s the vessel to their maturity. If they continued as they were, with no one even paying them any mind, they would not improve and would only get worse (as I explained previously, when I pointed out most Children are on the edge of becoming real problems). By entering the fantasyland, however, they are forced and expected to grow up to cope with their sudden position as — basically — the “grown-up.”

There’s a reason every other occupant of a Child’s fantasy land is either emotionally immature, small of stature, weakened greatly, or physically undeveloped.

But! These things, they’re cool, they’re handy, they’re necessary — but they’re not the point. They are the means to an end. They are the anvil against which you hammer out the steel that is to be the Child’s end-game; I think that’s the best way I can conceivably put it! The metal is the Child, the fire is the Monster, the hammer is every single Conflict and instance of Big Trouble that happens along the way, and it’s all happening against the — necessary — backdrop of some great opposing force to which only the Child may respond. But that anvil isn’t the point of why you’re hammering; you’re after the sword. You’re after the Child, galvanized into self-reliance, self-confidence, competence, dependability by the interactions with, destruction wrought by, mischief caused alongside, dreams chased thanks to the Monster. You’re after the final moments, as the music swells tenderly and the Monsters squats on the shore of the island far away, waving after the Child’s sailboat — or the Children wandering back through the Wardrobe on a whim — or the Children discovering a whole world with families that love them beyond the ocean.

So, my issue has been this end-game. Because I feel like it’s the point. It’s the thesis to this grand, rambling essay that this game slowly transforms into as every day goes by. If…

It’s a game about your relationship with that Best Friend that defines your life. Also he’s a Monster, so that’s cool.
Jared’s Three Big Questions

…and…

The Child and the Monster are inextricably linked in the game, from character design, to how conflicts are handled. The give-and-take of their relationship is a central component to game-play, and their mutual influences for better and worse inform the entire way dice rolls play out. The world of the game for the Monster and for the Child are each individually expanded and defined by how these characters cause (or solve) problems for the other.
Jared’s Three Big Questions

 …then at the end of the game, when all is said and done, those influences back and forth — that tested friendship — that relationship — what happens to it should be what we care about; did the Monster help the Child? Did the Child learn to solve his problems? Is his life better? Or is he instead just better at dealing with it? Is he going back? Is he running away for good because it really is bad? Did the Monster even make it this far…? This is the important stuff. This is what needs to be outlined, or at least pointed to by the rest of the game.

So how do we get to those points? How do we take ourselves from a mess of steel to an actual sword capable of doing some harm? How do we step from a lump of potential to actual, realized, glorious, gleaming final form? The Monster is the vessel for lessons and ideas, serving as guardian to the Child and imparting nuggets of wisdom and perfect observation to help him or her; The Monster also needs these lessons imparted back onto him, because he is just as adrift as the Child in many ways, and this makes the Child step up to the role of guardian in his own right; the two of them must invigorate one another, help one another, and even necessarily hamper one another for their own good — and all of this while they are tested and stressed to the breaking point by the conflicts and challenges of the world around them, and whatever test they’ve been straining to rise above since the Child first appeared.

Tear Out The Engine and Put It Back Together Before We Drive
I’ve basically completely gutted what I had previously written about Conflicts, and that necessitates some gutting of a couple of the elements of character creation. This is nothing too serious for the latter, and a massive overhaul in design and purpose for the former — but it’s all just an idea right now. I’ve kept my files for what is Alpha v1.0, and I’ll be considering all of this work to be Version 1.1… but by no means is it definitive at this point. I’m just exercising the brain with these ideas, but I’m liking them overall for the sake of this talk. If you were particularly attached to my last round of Children Who Play With Monsters talk, then just consider this alternate universe talk I suppose!

For the sake of illustration, I do hereby include two photos taken of my table work for this game. I don’t like to work on the game on the computer, except for: 1) when I am explaining and talking through ideas here on the blog, 2) when I am writing things up in an official capacity, 3) when I feel the need for definitive accuracy in my designs, or 4) I’m doing it for the explicit purpose of showing others. These are pictures taken from when I’ve simply been messing around with ideas as they occur to me… I suppose what I am saying it, I’m including these as a bonus and to illustrate some distinctions between Version 1.0 and 1.1, and I’m asking that the fact that they’re scrawled on a steno pad and note card not be held against me! These were originally never meant for anyone’s eyes but my own!

Steno pad page of a brief sketch of the character sheet

You'll notice some artifacts here, with abandoned ideas like pips, and a silhouette/profile thing for scaling Monsters.

Note card with a more recent sketch of the character sheet

Some new ideas here with new approaches to them... greatly reduced the meta, a great deal more dice involved, and redesigned No-Nos

In my scribblings over what now constitutes I suppose two attempts to put what I was thinking into useful rules, guidelines, and actual game design, I conceived of the basic character making and conflict resolution processes of Children Who Play With Monsters. It was extremely simplistic to start and consisted of:

    • Roll d8 and d12 if you’re with your Monster and it’s Allowed.
    • Roll d8 if you’re alone.
    • Roll d12 if your Monster is alone and it’s not a No-No
    • Roll d8 vs d12 if it’s not Allowed!
    • Roll without opposition from the Monster if it’s not Allowed but it’s a No-no!
    • Add 1d8 to your d8 pool if your Wish-Fulfillment can help!
    • Add 1d12 to the Monster’s Pool for each of his Blurbs that help!
    • If Not Allowed, add 1d12 to your Child’s Pool for each of the Monster’s Blurbs that hinder!

This would generate a pool of dice ranging from 1d8, to 2d8 and 4d12 in really good circumstances, or 1d8 versus 4d12 in really bad circumstances. All while trying to hit or beat the number 6, or the versus roll whatever it might have been. Not too complex, and honestly not too bad overall. No real depth to it, I think, but it’s a pretty solid First Out of the Gate solution in terms of what occurred to me right off the bat. “I want to yell at the Spriggan for being a jerk!” Your Monster doesn’t allow Mouthing-Off! Roll d8 vs d12! “Well, he’s QUIET and wouldn’t silence me, so I’ll take an extra d12. 1d12 and 1d8 vs 1d12.” True, but he’s BIG and puts himself between you and the Spriggan, so 1d12 and 1d8 vs 2d12. Roll off, higher individual die roll takes the Conflict, add a detail to the Fable, continue play; if you wind up In Trouble, add a troublesome detail to the Fable, give someone else a scene, and later return to your “Oh No!” still-in-progress. Things missing from this set-up include any mechanical indication of a relationship with the Monster beyond the simple arrangements of present/absent/with/against quartet — such as, Present+Disinterested, Absent+Protective, With+Reluctant, Against+Supportive, or any other combinations…

Also, no mechanics supported dealing with the Problems listed on the Child’s portion of the character sheet — theoretically, in Version 1.0 you would play until the story-driven event of trumping the Great Badness, leaving the Narrator’s responsibility as maintaining the pacing so that it coincided with the Child learning the appropriate lessons of their life. Which is fine and all, but kind of hackneyed and really represents and entirely divorced effort. This is Mechanics||Storytelling; the two running parallel — one belonging basically to the players and the other to the Narrator… which again, is cool and all, but it’s basically two completely divorced components of what ought to be a single unit. I believe Vincent Baker charted out the interaction in role-playing games at one time, and it looked like people playing make-believe, referencing mechanics to justify the stories being told, with the stories further informing the mechanics called for. Something to that effect — the point is, they all worked together, not alongside one another.

The ideas conceived for version 1.1 firstly expanded on the dice system primarily because I felt that the initial set-up lacked depth. Whether appropriate or ill-informed, we’ll see, but that was the motivation — expand on the dice-rolling, and expand involvement in the dice-rolling. Each player needs 2d4, 1d6, 1d8, 2d10, and 1d12 to play — these are split between seven relevant parts of character creation. Your Child starts with a Maturity of 1d4, which represents their contributions at any given time as informed by the Profile you gave him (Dork, Jock, etc), and will rise and fall throughout the game in reflection/definition of your relationship with the Monster; speaking of whom, starts with 1d12 representing its contributions and its attachment to the Child. The two Allowances it grants you (instead of three, as per 1.0) are given 1d8 and 1d6, and allow you to roll them when attempting an act that falls under an Allowance. The remaining 1d4 would be invested in the Mischief your Monster causes (a replacement for No-Nos)* and the d10s would be allotted individually to your Child’s Problem at Home and Problem at School.  The Monster’s Blurb would allow the rerolling of individual dice, and the Wish-Fulfillment would let you add another die equal to your current Maturity die. Conflict would proceed like this:

    • Roll Maturity against a 6 when the Child is alone.
    • Roll Monster against a 6 when the Monster is alone.
    • Roll Maturity and Monster against a 6 when together, subtracting one from the other to produce a final difference.
    • Add an Allowance to the final result of the above, whenever applicable.
    • Use the Monster’s Blurb to call for individual rerolls from his pool.
    • Use the Child’s Wish-Fulfillment to roll an additional Maturity die.
    • The Narrator should roll your Problems + 6 against the Child and Monster, when appropriate.
    • The Narrator should roll your Problems + Mischief + 6 against the Child and Monster, whenever In Trouble.
    • The Narrator should roll Mischief + 6 against the Child/Child and Monster, when the Monster is causing problems.
    • The Narrator should feel appropriate in rolling Mischief and adding it to the Trouble Threshold to make matters worse.

The idea operating behind this is that the Narrator is given a way to directly challenge the things that the players consider important — they can do this, by throwing in extra dice in favor of the opposition to complicate matters so long as the scene is narrated in a way to tap into the Child’s lingering issues and insecurities. Bobby wants to Mouth-Off to the Spriggan? Okay, but that’s how you get Beat Up at School so the Narrator grabs himself a d10 and gives it a good roll to find the new target number. Furthermore, the results of things not boosted by Allowances have the ability to fall on the low-end of the spectrum, resulting in Trouble which is good as far as this game is concerned. Something I failed to mention before, the option to set your Child’s Trouble Threshold belongs to the player in 1.1, and I would write up a guideline for choosing a number (ie, between 1 and 12, low numbers = slower game, less trouble; high numbers = quicker game, lots of trouble, cascading problems).

In this idea, I’d give the Narrator a pool of d8s equal to the total number of unresolved Problems the Children in the group have — the Narrator could throw these in at his discretion to further complicate the game session, as these should serve to represent the specific planned scenes of opposition and drama he has in mind. These d8s are what create the memorable scenes of, say, the Gmork in Neverending Story or boss fights in A Boy and His Blob, or the specific plot turns in How To Train Your Dragon. These dice are to give the Narrator some room to play around, and they’re his budget for a given session of play! And he should feel more than entitled to combine these with his tricks above, especially getting a particular Child in Trouble — as these dice roll over from scene to scene as long it’s all linked by Trouble.

Okay… So? What? That’s A Lot of Numbers, Man
Let’s look at the dynamic that is created by this. Really, it falls into four categories and the dice just exist to shuttle you between these four results…

Lookit this grid! Bam!

How delightful.

  1. The Child Gets What He Wants And Nothing Goes Wrong (Success/No Trouble)
  2. The Child Gets What He Wants But Something Goes Wrong (Success/Trouble)
  3. The Child Doesn’t Get What He Wants But Nothing Goes Wrong (Failure/No Trouble)
  4. The Child Doesn’t Get What He Wants And Something Goes Wrong (Failure/Trouble)

Listed from generally most desirable to generally least desirable from a typical gaming standpoint. From the above dice-rolling-breakdown, players have the ability to: Roll Allowance, increasing their total on a given die roll; Roll Wish-Fulfillment, increasing their total on a given die roll; Reroll their Monster, Allowances, Maturity, increasing or decreasing their total on a given die roll. Players are pretty strongly in control of their ability to Avoid or Get Into Trouble more than anything else, especially when you consider that the Narrator can bring dice in to play to make straight-forward Success less likely. The Narrator can bring multiple Problems into play if it’s appropriate, increasing the difficulty; the Narrator can introduce Plot Dice, increasing the difficulty; the Narrator can instigate Mischief, increasing the Trouble Threshold as appropriate; the Narrator can engage the Child against his own Monster by adding Mischief to the difficulty.

So if players are going, honestly, to primarily be the arbiters of when Trouble does and does not start, then that should be the relevant portion of playing their characters and coming to terms with their stories and such, and it should put them at odds between two things they want; if the Narrator is looking like he is shaping up to be the controller of success and failure, then that is going to generally be the province of story-telling and plot-making — very similar to what I concluded about 1.0, BUT! At least now the Narrator is interacting directly with the players when it comes to Conflicts and dice-rolling.

So, thoughts: If the Child is supposed to be the hero to end the Grim Badstuff, and especially if the players want to do this, it should be possible. I am not above, however, making it the object of the very end of the game — effectively, even, treating it as a bonus on top of the real point of play: resolving the Child’s Problems. Almost, really, in the way that at the end of My Life With Master once the dice tell you that, no! It’s okay! You’ve thrown off the yoke! You have a scene to depose the Master and see what becomes of you and your vigor. In this case, I foresee something similar, with a degree of it being “see who is the chosen one, and see who helps/runs/weeps/etc.” I think the more critical point here is that the Narrator should bring their Problems to bear on this final confrontation, increasing the likelihood of failed Conflicts, increasing the likelihood of your Monster dying to defend you in the final conflict even as you win the day. But what if you want your Monster to make it through? What if you want the two of you to fly away into the sunset and mess with some bullies?

Well, you had better resolve those Problems on the character sheet and take away your Narrator’s weapons then!

  • Play the game. Call for Conflict when you want a particular in-game effect (plot elements, etc); Narrator will call for Conflict when appropriate, to hassle the Child for his Problems, his Monster’s Mischief, and his own Plots. Conflict for in-game effects always has the chance to produce Trouble after all, which is useful in its own way, and vital to advancing.
  • When in Conflict, roll the appropriate dice as listed above! By yourself? Maturity. Just Monster? Monster dice. “Working” together? Both and subtract. Try and work in an Allowance! Lead the Narrator into investing his Plot dice with cool opportunities in-game, by adding cool entries to the Fable when you get the chance.
  • If you Succeed, narrate getting the nifty plot thing you wanted and add a new Entry to the Fable explaining where you’re off to now with your New Cool Plot Thing. (ie, You Managed To Sneak Into The Thousand-Walled City Despite Applecore Refusing To Stay Under His Tarp; tell us where to now, and give us something cool to play with!)
  • If you Fail, the Narrator will narrate how you fail to get your nifty little plot thing you wanted. Write an Entry about how you didn’t get what you wanted. You have the option of Succeeding even if you fail, but only by reducing your Monster’s die size by 1 step — write an Entry about how you do get what you want, but at some cost to your Monster.
  • If you get into Trouble, narrate how things get worse (paying attention to what dice got you there). Write out an Entry describing how things get worse, and let play focus on the other Children before coming back to you for your continued Conflict. When in Trouble, you can opt out of it entirely by running from the Fantasyland — and then increasing your Maturity, and Problems each by 1 step (up to their maximums of d12).
  • If you’re in Trouble but manage to get out, write two Entries in the Fable. One for your awe-inspiring success (of course), and one for the moment of calm afterwards where your Monster imparts a kernel of wisdom to the Child or otherwise shares a defining moment that will drop whatever Problem was part of the recent Conflict by 1 type.
  • For every decreases, drop the Monster’s die size by 1 type as his influence begins to wane, honestly, and your Child ought to be coming into his own right.
  • If you’re Not in Trouble, no real need for narration here — but feel free to increase your Monster’s Mischief by one type to put yourself in Trouble! Maybe you’re pretty certain you can get out of it and get a decreased Problem out of it! Or, maybe you really need that upped Maturity die and you’re getting into it so you can panic and flee — who knows! Move them dice around!
  • … and some other ideas and relationships I need to work out.

Just a whole lot of idea drop. I honestly feel like I may be getting somewhere with these more recent ideas, and my brain keeps firing off more connections the more I read — which, really, is how it ought to be. So, I’m going to keep on reading, keep on writing, keep on brainstorming, and see where it takes me. I think there is some progress in all of this, somewhere. I made it over a giant hump I had previously regarding mechanics and end-games… and even if this snippet isn’t anything like what I eventually come to, it is definitively more than what I started with previously and that gives me something to work on, respond to, and build from.

As always: Comments, Questions, Thoughts below — and my e-mail for one-on-one contact is as ever alfred_rudzki[at]yahoo[dot]com.

Time to finally let myself get a breather from this post! And then write another one really soon!

 


Sidebar
Somehow I managed to go this entire weekend without realizing I had completely failed to post something on Friday. Whoops.

Success & Failure (cont’d)
When there are two sides to a Conflict, one side wins and the other loses; one side gets their intention, and the other does not; one side protects their Ties and the other doesn’t get their way; one side Fights or Commits Ultraviolence and the other suffers. If there are ever three or more sides in a Conflict that includes Violence dice, hell breaks loose. Rather than compare the highest die from each side to determine the winner overall, arrange your dice from greatest value to lowest value as before and compare them across the board for each side’s pool of dice: highest die vs highest die vs highest die, and so on. If the dice all match? It’s a stand-off. Look dramatically at everyone else at the table, nobody dies yet, keep role-playing. It has to be a tie for everyone involved for it to be a stand-off. Otherwise, everyone who rolled higher than the unlucky side(s) has the Advantage, and selects one character from that side and sends him to the Morgue or the Hospital as per the usual rules. Compare the next set of dice, and so on and so on until the side with the fewest dice runs out, or only one side remains.

Yes. Three-way shoot-outs are deadly, prone to barely justified alliances, and everyone gets shot. People who never deserved to get shot are almost always the first ones to take the bullet, and no one tends to walk away unscathed. And before I forget: when you have the Advantage, you are also allowed to target anyone part of your side. Like I said… barely justified alliances. Everyone gets shot.

Survival
Hey! You made it through a game session! Your character lives! He probably made some hard choices along the way… interfered with a Moment of Silence, got into a Fight, earned a Trauma, made a Compromise… It was a busy game session. But the point is, you made it. Good for you. Go ahead and select one of these options for your character: decrease your Depravity by 1 rank; increase a Tie by 1 Point; if you increased your Depravity this game, scratch off a Trauma perpetrated (remember: you can never remove a Trauma you’ve been victim to). You cannot decrease your Depravity to 0 this way. You cannot increase your Tie to 10 this way — Those changes must be done during game-play using a Moment of Silence.

The Final Scene
The end-game. The climax. Time to see what it’s all come down to. The Final Scene is triggered whenever any character’s Depravity reaches 10 Ranks, or one of a character’s Ties reaches 10 points. If a character manages to reach Depravity 10, then they are all consumed by violence — disconnected from the world around them, no empathy, an angel of death in lead and gunsmoke. If a character manages to get a Tie up to 10 Points, then they have discovered their life’s passion — their one, absolute object of affection or personal destiny that they will leave behind their sordid past to achieve. Below are rules for each possible outcome. There is a lot of overlap, and a lot of possible upsets as each situation affects everyone else at the table and brings them into the same high stakes situations as your character. As in the fiction: When one character get’s close to making a life for himself, everything gets that much harder… people get jealous, get stupid, get ideas. And when your character really gets bad, everyone else gets jumpy and expects the knife in their back before the day is out…

Angels of Death, Robed in Lead, on Wings of Gunsmoke
When one character reaches Depravity 10, consider all brothers to be at Depravity 10 when dealing with him. When one character reaches Depravity 10, no brother may sacrifice a Tie to avoid being sent to the Morgue. That’s how these stories end. Lots of tears, lots of bullets, lots of body bags. At Depravity 10, few problems are not solved by Ultraviolence — remember that when negotiating for your Vendetta, or the girl you love, or the brother you hate… Also, when one character has reached Depravity 10, no characters may share sides except for Ties. And would you really put them in the line of fire just for a few more dice? Really? Your goal at this point is to secure your Vendetta (which no one should be making easy for you), and do whatever your crew thinks would be appropriate for securing the safety of your highest valued Tie.

When one character reaches 10 Points in a Tie, they’ve found their calling and want out of the life of violence and struggle to start again with whatever their Tie may be — school, family, ma, the open road… But their dream requires setting right everything in the past. When one character reaches 10 Points in a single Tie, all brothers are considered to have 10 Points in a single Tie — and they should immediately declare what Tie it will be. In addition, any character who has a Vendetta with this character is now considered to have Depravity 10 so long as the Vendetta exists. No character may Compromise using their 10 Point Tie… you can’t be determined to leave your life of crime behind if you’re hawking your ma’s jewelry to feed your escape. Now’s the time to draw a line in the sand. Your goal at this point is to get out the game by committing to a new life — narrate the scene involving your 10 Point Tie and include a legitimate cross-road between their new life and old… then, as if you were rolling for Trauma, roll Violence dice equal to your Depravity against dice equal to your number of Ties. If the Humanity dice win, the character gets out. Give him a bittersweet denouement. It’s only so good. If the Violence dice win, the character can’t rise above himself. Immediately increase his Depravity to 10 and follow the above rules.

In the above, the phrase “consider all brothers to [X],” where X is a score for a certain trait, should be treated to mean: for all intents and purposes where it would matter, treat the trait at the specified value; however, any other derivative effects pertaining to the End-Game are not triggered by this effected score. ie, when my Tie reaches 10 Points, your Vendetta with me means you are now considered to be Depravity 10; however, that does not make anyone else at the table Depravity 10.

Final Thoughts
This game was put together hastily, in a very stream of conscious manner. It’s not perfect by any stretch. It may not be balanced. The End-Game especially needs an overhaul just because it reads in a clunky manner — but the amount of blood and last second reversals it can generate is actually nearly exactly how it should be. I’ve already started working on a second version of this, only because I openly acknowledge the size of the pools of dice needed to play this game in it’s current form. The second version is currently tinkering with dice sizes in the style of Dogs in the Vineyard which is definitely interesting enough. It’s influences are here, in this text, if you look at it: the idea of escalating from protecting your Ties, to Compromising, to Fighting. Then Ultraviolence existing as a complete separate thread for the stuff your character doesn’t love but wants to control. It’s there. In the future, I’d probably gut some of DitV‘s mechanics and use them in Vendetta2.0, with shifting relationships and changing dice values. I’m also looking at inflicting status conditions on the people around you, in the manner of Jonathon Walton’s Geiger Counter (built off of Vincent Baker’s Afraid rules) and Remember Tomorrow. The ability to make a character [alone], [unarmed], [injured], [armed] and the like as the end result of scenes of role-playing is immensely intriguing, and fits with part of the idea I’m having… that you could achieve those with either Fighting or Talking… but you’ll have an easier time of one or the other. Just some thoughts.

I will be playing this game with a friend and I’ll be sure to post some notes about it at a later time. Thanks for suffering through a week of these reposts! Back to real work.


Tools & Weapons
On the subject of violence, certain tools and weapons would understandably make it easier to force your will on others — it turns out, a lot of arguments lose their steam when your rebuttal is baseball bat. If a character possesses a Tool (which we’ll define as anything typically treated as a “melee weapon” in other games), he may treat two additional dice as Violence dice — suddenly makingFighting more likely to go in his favor, and more likely to increase his Depravity as a result. A Gun (those are the two options: Tools & Guns) functions similarly for the sake of this game, with one more terrifying perk. A Gun will either add one additional die as a Violence die, or it will treat all dice involved as Violence Dice. A Gun is the edge in Ultraviolence, and a Gun makes a normal Fight a death-wish.

Thicker than Water
Ties are your character’s tether to this world; their link to the mundane and beautiful. Ties are what your character is about, what he lives for, who he lives for… and a couple considerations and exceptions exist regarding them. For one, Ties can keep you from going too far — they can calm you down, call you back to reality when you’re in the throes of a destructive frenzy. Those scenes where someone important is telling the character that the goon “ain’t worth the trouble?” Those are what I’m talking about. If you pick a Fight in the presence of a Tie of yours, it takes an additional success on the Violence Dice to succumb. This means it takes at least 2 successes on Violence Dice to send the victim to the Hospital, to inflict Trauma, and to increase your Depravity by 1. In the presence of a Tie, in fact, it is impossible to send a victim to the Morgue. Successes from Violence Dice still count as successes; the first is essentially a “freebie” Humanity die in the presence of a Tie. Committing Ultraviolence in the presence of a Tie, however, reduces its value by 1 Point.Ultraviolence can’t be reeled in — that’s counter to the very point of it; your Ties cannot stop it, cannot save you from it.Ultraviolence functions normally around Ties, including sending characters to the Hospital, Morgue, Trauma, and Depravity. It can’t really be stopped. Be careful who you cut loose around.

Success & Failure
Basically, assume that you’re going along with whatever is happening in the game. The Narrator narrates, and you’re interacting withe NPCs, the Ties, the Antagonists, your brothers… but when something doesn’t click? When you want control? When you don’t want to play into the frame the Narrator has provided? Then it’s time for Conflict. Conflict isn’t about you the player getting control technically although that is how it works out; it’s about your Character getting control of the situation going on around him.

A carjacker tears the character out of a car.
“No, he doesn’t. Conflict.”

The Irish crime boss comes and starts collecting protection money from your shop’s till.
“No, he doesn’t. Conflict.”

Your Brother takes your shotgun from under the bar to deal with the guys messing with his car out front.
“No. He Does Not. Conflict.”

You roll Conflict for control of the action. You roll Conflict when the scene is going somewhere your character doesn’t want it to. You could roll to change someone’s opinion after hearing them speak — or you can nod along and agree, and only roll against him when he expects you to act accordingly. That’s your call. Playing along until the last minute? Nipping the problem in the bud when it first comes up? Your calls. You roll when your character wants to steer the course of the action in the scene.

Select the number of dice as appropriate to the Conflict, as outlined above. Remember that you can only use the same die pool once in a scene — so if you fail to use your Ties, you can’t roll again until you FightCompromise, or Commit Ultraviolence — all of which change your die pool. You can try again in a different scene, but understand that it’s possible the conditions have changed and you may not get your way! Or it may be harder for one reason or another! These are the risks of maybe not being willing to draw the gun — you already know the risks of being more than willing to draw the gun. With the number of dice ready, you throw them and arrange them in descending order: highest to lowest. Compare the highest die with the highest single die of your challenger; in the event of a tie, compare the next two highest dice; in the event of a tie, compare the next two highest dice… until you determine a winner.

In the case of a full-tie (each die is the same), the larger die pool is the winner always by Violence, unless the winner chooses to give up. If the die pools are the same size, then the scene is interrupted in such a way that the conflict is moot for the time being. It can be revisited in a later scene, but for now neither side has gotten its way. Take note: A Violence Die beats a Humanity Die of the same value (Violent 3 beats a normal 3).

Since you roll for control of a Conflict, you are always rolling against someone. That’s another player’s character (and one of your brothers) or a character being run by the Narrator, and maybe even more than one. There is not a limit to the number of characters able to take part in a Conflict for control of the outcome, but there are a couple caveats here. Any time a Brother is in a scene with you and on your side (meaning, the exact same Intention declared) choose which of you will roll his dice, and give him a bonus Humanity die or Violence die — of the assisting Brother’s choice. Follow the usual rules for Violence Dice and Depravity for both Brothers, unless their Depravity is unequal. In which case, the Brother with the lower Depravity score and only that brother suffers the effects of Violence dice.

Jeez. You act like you’ve never seen a guy bleed before, Joey. Grow up.

Stay tuned for Part 7


The Guts, The Balls, The Heart
This said, the ability to send someone to the Morgue is not entirely in the player or the character’s hands. Remember: choosing to send someone to the Morgue or the Hospital is a choice available only when a character succeeds in a Conflict through the use of Violence dice. Succeed but not on Violence dice? It’s a scuffle, punches are probably thrown — but everyone walks away. A little bloody, a little bruised, but everyone walks away. Succeed on the Violence dice? Everything goes pear shaped. Too far. Depravity. To send someone to the Morgue: when you succeed on the Violence dice, you must also in the same dice pool roll lower than your current Depravity. Take note: with Depravity ranked 0 or 1, you cannot send someone to the Morgue. Even if you really wanted to, even if it made perfect sense to save your family. You can’t bring yourself to do it. You care too damn much. Sorry if you agreed to do a hit to get your Brother the cash he needs; you won’t be able to go through with it. Should probably find a way to resolve that.

So, the only way to send someone to the Morgue is to get your Depravity up. Remember, that means Moments of Violence, or picking Fights and winning them on your Violence dice — but if your Depravity is 0 or 1, you’ll only have 1 or 2 Violence dice in a fight… what’re the odds you’ll increase your Depravity? Ya know… if you wanted to, that is (because of course you don’t). More generally: how can you increase your chances of sending someone off to the Hospital, just to get them out of the way for a while? There’s a reason for weapons. Makes violence easier, turns out.

A History of Violence
So, an NPC or a brother is doing something that your character takes issue with. Something he doesn’t want to happen. Something that you, the player, would rather not occur in the story that is being played out. You could raise your voice slightly and request ever so sweetly that the story not go that way, or you could deal with it and resolve it like so (actually, that’s a lie. You don’t have a choice. This is how to do it). You may start a Conflict to get your way. Each participant states their Intention in the Conflict; you likely state something different than what the NPC just proposed, while the NPC probably just restates their original point… it’d make sense, wouldn’t it?

  • If the Conflict is an immediate threat to one of your Ties in the scene, or if it is not an immediate threat and the Tie is not in the scene: you receive a number of dice equal to the full Point value of the Tie.
  • If the Conflict is not an immediate threat to one of your Ties in the scene, or is an immediate threat and the Tie is not in the scene: you receive a number of dice equal to half the full Point value of the Tie, rounded up.
  • If the Conflict is important enough to you, you may bring additional dice into play: you receive a number of dice dependent on Compromising, Fighting, and Committing Ultraviolence.
  • If the Conflict does not involve your Ties in anyway: you receive 0 dice and must go along with the conflict, unless you bring dice into play.
  • If you participate in a Conflict: you may not initiate an identical conflict in the same scene; something in your die pool must change.

Dice brought into play by your Ties are, essentially, Humanity Dice. They’re dice there for the betterment of those around you, because you care about them — they represent a willingness to stand up for them, what you think is right; a force of presence, confidence, and intention that may help you get your way. Humanity Dice aren’t 100% friendly. These dice still represent lying, cheating, stealing, intimidation, kidnapping, and extorting as much as they represent persuasion, requests, confidence, and other positive influences. The point is that these dice are fueled by you doing it for what matters to you. You roll these dice in defense of your Ties. If these dice — for all the discussion, debate, screaming, and plate throwing they represent — do not get you your way, you have options.

Your character may try to Compromise if they wish. Decrease a Tie the character possesses by 1 Point in order to roll a number of dice equal to it’s Point total before you Compromised. You try to get what you want, but you sacrifice the integrity of one of your Ties in the process… you offer the money from hawking parts of Pa’s car, you offer money from the bar’s cash till, you beg and plead in the name of your lover; you try to better your chances of getting your way by putting up something else’s worth in your own place. If you get your way, it has nothing to do with you. It will only be because of the Compromise. The Point spent is lost regardless of success or failure. The dice earned persist for the whole scene. The character may Compromise in defense of his Ties, his brothers, or for an unrelated Conflict.

The character may also try to Fight if they wish. Add to your pool of dice a number of Violence Dice equal to 1 + your Depravity rank in order to Fight. You try to get what you want, and you’re willing to throw a punch to get it. Willing to scuffle, willing to swing, willing to kick and scream and bite and bleed — but it’s all for her (or him… we don’t judge!) and you don’t forget that; you try to better your chances of getting your way by throttling the skulls of the people who disagree. If you get your way, the philosophers in the audience might question if it was worth it (hint: you should too). If you succeed on the Violence Dice, then you increase your Depravity by 1 rank, and you also take a Trauma — as does your victim. The character may Fight only in defense of his Ties and his brothers.

The character may also, if he chooses, Commit Ultraviolence. Add to your pool of dice a number of Violence Dice equal to 1 + twice your Depravity rank in order to Commit Ultraviolence. You get what you want. This is not about protecting any of your Ties. This is you, and only you. Your character can never make the claim that he did this for anyone but himself — and he knows it, whether he admits it or not; your character gets his way by putting himself first and damn everyone else. He get’s the mob boss to trust him, but only by shooting you in the gut; he get’s that goon to put his gun down, but only after stomping his hand to mush; he sets you up to take the fall, and the police take you down — he saves you from the fire, but immediately turns around and throws the arsonist into it. Someone gets hurt. Someone will always get hurt. The character may never Commit Ultraviolence in defense of his Ties — he may Commit Ultraviolence when he could otherwise use a Tie, but it’s an admission that he is doing it for himself. The character may Commit Ultraviolence in defense of his brothers.

Stay tuned for Part 6


Trauma
Trauma happens. Bad things happen. It can be concerning; it can be scarring, physically or mentally or emotionally. Violence is hard to deal with regardless of who you are — be it the perpetrator or the victim. The difference you see is that the perpetrator will numb himself to the monster he may become, while the victim will likely always bear the burden of what they experienced. In any Fight where someone wins through the use of Violence dice, participants take Trauma and add it to their character sheet. Write down a sentence about the situation that warrants the Trauma! And the Trauma relates back to it. Maybe you now have issues travelling alone at night, hyperventilate on the train, have a bum leg, or can only think about how you look with the stitches in your cheek — Trauma causes problems in your ability to interact with and relate to the world around you.

During play, someone who knows your Trauma can call on it to stop your character from participating in a scene while your character suffers the effects. You freeze up in a crowd of people if that’s your thing, or you can’t keep role-playing a scene because you start having a fit; maybe you can’t draw your gun because you have the shakes. Your Trauma can never be used to stop you from participating in a Conflict that involves your Ties, but it does grant an extra two dice to anyone you’re rolling against in that situation. If someone calls on your character’s Trauma to keep you from interacting with a scene, you have the option to bury that Trauma deep down inside and ignore it… not the healthiest solution, but the option exists. Take one die for each Tie you possess and one Violence die for each point of Depravity you possess and roll them; regardless of success, you can now participate in the scene — however, if success shows on the Violence dice then you only manage to overcome your momentary fit by detaching yourself from the experience, and those around you. Give yourself another rank of Depravity, and the cycle of violence continues.

Be sure to keep track of how much of your Trauma features you as the perpetrator and how much features you as the victim (You should be writing all these down anyway!) because it will be important in the game. At the end of any session where your Depravity increased, you can cross off any single Trauma you possess that your character inflicted. You may never cross off any Trauma you were victim to. Retreating deeper into senseless destructiveness can save you from a lot of heartache, but it won’t save you for too long.

Medical Records
As mentioned above, if your character’s success in a Fight comes from the Violence Dice rolled, then it means he has gone too far. One punch too many, one bottle too conveniently within reach, one moment of violence — and something has gone horribly awry. If you succeed due to Violence Dice, you must decide to send the victim to the Hospital or the Morgue.

The Hospital
When sent to the Hospital, a character cannot participate in anyone’s scenes other than those that take place at the Hospital; he cannot himself even call for any scenes until he has called for a Moment of Silence (see below) at the Hospital. Should there by any Conflicts while at the Hospital, the character cannot Fight or Commit Ultraviolence — they can only use their Ties (which, remember, unless directly threatened are only worth half Points) or Compromise. Sending a character to the Hospital is the “safer” option when you succeed on a Violence die: 1) it removes a character from play for a small amount of time while your character achieves his intention, 2) there is no Depravity requirement as there is for The Morgue (see below). As mentioned above, it gives the victim the opportunity to call for a Moment of Silence.

The Morgue
When sent to the Morgue, a character is removed completely from the game; he cannot call for any more scenes, period. There are no last words in crime tragedy that are not curses and bile. You do not impart some sort of vital knowledge onto those you leave behind; they do not learn from your words, only from your actions — and eventually, your death. If you had something important to say, you probably should have said it before the thug pulled his gun on you. However, you do have one chance to survive. You have to muster all of your will to do it, hanging on for something you love; something important to you.

If sent to the Morgue, you can redirect yourself to the Hospital by sacrificing your highest-ranked Tie (Come Back from the Brink). The life of violence costs you something very dear as your loved ones leave you, your Ma suffers a nervous breakdown, your car is stolen while you were bleeding in the gutter… You come back from the brink, only to find what you came back for no longer wants you. Understandably, you could ruin someone’s life this way. It’s good that you have your brothers backing you up, huh? Right? When you sacrifice a Tie to Come Back from the Brink, you follow the rules above for being sent to the Hospital, with one change. You receive twoMoments of Silence. Role-play them wisely. If you were on your way to the Morgue, chances are you need them.

A Moment of Silence
These are the times of peace in your otherwise hectic, violent, stressful, panicked life. They are likely few and far between. A player can call for A Moment of Silence at any time if they so choose, and the Narrator is expected to frame a scene relevant to the character, his Ties, and the player’s request — typically with a specific Tie in a certain situation. Ideally, A Moment of Silence is a beautiful moment intended to define the character and present a new side of their personality, or a deeper understanding of something already known. The catch is this: a Moment of Silence cannot have any Conflict. If you are taking a Moment of Silence, the Narrator has the right to bring into play a number of facts equal to the Points invested in the Tie present in the scene — he may use other NPCs as mouthpieces for these facts, if he so chooses, but they are incontrovertible without a Conflict as per the normal rules. This is the time for another character to make a play for their Vendetta if they hope to chance no resistance. If the Moment of Silence completes itself without interruption, then the character may shift a rank of his Depravity into one Point with the appropriate Tie; or he may even shift one Point from the appropriate Tie into one rank of Depravity — a Moment of Violence. This is the one of only two way to increase this score without a Fight; at the cost of your Tie. Use this knowledge wisely.

Stay tuned for Part 5


Inglorious Violence
So I’ve talked a lot about Ties and Vendettas (which are vital peoples/places/things to you, and have Points), and Depravity (which is ultraviolence and has a rank). What about this idea of violence being the last resort? About it being the choice that can be damning? That violence is the first step in the crime tragedy that leads to every bloody footstep to follow, winding to an ignominious fate? Conflict. We’re talking about Conflict. We’re talking about why Conflict matters to people, and why people react the way they do; why someone tries to break someone’s face, and not make a deal. We’ll define a Conflict as any action within the game that the player or the character disagrees with…

The Narrator says that Mikey Ferraro comes into your bar and is talking about how much of a nuisance it is when store-owners in the neighborhood get high-and-mighty with him, and he’s behind the bar grabbing himself something to drink on your dime and you just found out Ma’s rent is come due and she has no money? You’ve got something to say.

Conflict.

If one of your Ties is directly threatened (and I mean directly — gun pointed at your girlfriend, you’re evicted from your apartment, someone is smashing up your car) you declare the intent of your conflict and roll a number of d6’s equal to the Points invested in that Tie. If your Tie is not directly threatened (the Tie is absent from the scene where the threatening is happening, for example), you declare your intent and roll a number of d6’s equal to half of the Points invested in that Tie, rounded up. If none of your Ties apply and you still want to say “NO!” to the direction the NPC’s are heading with the story, you have a few options at your disposal. You can Compromise or you can Fight. Otherwise, it’s assumed they gain your compliance through cajoling, threatening, incentivizing — whatever works for your group.

Compromise & Fight
If you Compromise, you give up ground in some way to appease the NPC with whom you’re having Conflict, to help ensure you get your way. You may decrease the value of one of your Ties by 1 Point to take its value (before decrease) in dice for a particular Conflict; your character chooses to bring that Tie into the Conflict himself, damaging that relationship in the process, to give him an edge. In the above scenario, if your character doesn’t have Tie: My Bar for full points or Tie: My Ma for half points to deal with whatever challenge Mikey Ferraro may be presenting, the player could decrease — for example — Tie: My Car for dice… and maybe he begins selling pieces of that car to Mikey, to try and cover his Ma’s rent. Who knows! It’d be different for every character every time! When you do this, the point is lost regardless of success or failure. Add another Fact to your Tie.

If you Fight, you’re going for the throat. There is no persuasion, there is no coercion, there is no getting your way — if there were, you would have tried to Compromise. Or maybe you did, and it didn’t work — but you still won’t give up. Now you’re here. When you Fight, you add one Violence die (a die differentiated from the others by its color) plus an additional number of Violence dice equal to your Depravity to whatever pool of dice you may have.

So, if you’re Fighting for one of your Ties, you at least have that connection to bring you back down to humanity and maybe save you from any scars… but if not, then the only dice you’ll be throwing will be Violence dice.

Now, for disclosure: You can Fight, succeed, and not succumb to darker instincts, though! It is possible — it means you got into a fight, but you did not go too far. Someone probably got hurt, sure — but no one was sent to the Hospital or the Morgue. This means, in the Fight you succeeded on any die that is not a Violence die. However, if your success in a Conflict comes from a Violence die, then you succeed only by going too far — you are going to send someone to the Hospital or the Morgue (your choice, with conditions). You may narrate this resolution however you deem appropriate, but the point is it goes too far and is damaging. To the person, to relationships, to feelings — beyond typical violence; the kind of action that causes Trauma. In addition to Trauma, when succeeding on a Violence die, you increase your Depravity by 1 rank.

ie, Let’s say that Antony Ribasso (remember him from further up?) is the character who owns the bar (remember that from further up also?) that Mikey Ferarro is rummaging around in for a drink. He’s complaining about his protection racket, nursing a shiner, pouring out some gin and you tell him to stop — you can’t let any tabs slide, you gotta cover Ma’s rent. He laughs, oh that old broad, she still not paying? That’s a shame, but he keeps pouring.

You roll dice for the Conflict. Antony in this example has Tie 4: My Bar and Tie 3: My Ma — the biggest bonus would come from the bar, so he takes 4 dice for that +1 for each additional Threatened Tie. Antony collects 5 dice and tries to Compromise with Mikey. Y’see, Antony has Tie 2: Phil (one of the members of the Crew at the table) and he declares while spending a Point of that Tie that “Phil owes Mikey some money.” With that Tie now damaged, Antony has 6 dice, and he throws them, promising to go with Mikey to collect on Phil next time… but he does miserably. No success. The Tie with Phil is now 1, regardless.

Finally, Antony decides a Fight is the only way to go. He still has 6 dice since a Compromise will last a whole scene, and he adds 1 Violence die for going into a Fight. Looking at Antony’s character sheet, the player notes that he started the character off with Depravity 2 and he now adds an additional 2 Violence Dice. Throwing 9 dice total, he is likely to succeed! But if he succeeds off of his Violence dice, then he has begun a walk down a road painted with blood. If he does succeed off the Violence Dice, Mikey will wind up in either the Hospital or the Morgue, Antony will have Depravity 3, and both characters will take Trauma.

Stay tuned for Part 4