Tuesday, June 26, 2018

12 Things About The Green Law of Varkith: Dungeon World

This Sunday I start five-sessions of Dungeon World using Brendan Conway's The Green Law of Varkith. It's one of three "Chaos Worlds" he's written (along with Last Days of Anglekite and The Cold Ruins of Lastlife). I'm also running a one-shot of this for Magpie at GenCon. To help orient myself (and my players) I put together a one-page setting summary for players.

I dig Varkith because I love city adventures and "community building." In Green Law players collectively run a guild in a fantasy city which draws inspiration from Planescape and Perdido Street Station. The PC's guild has stats and can evolve, like the Ark from Mutant: Year Zero and the Crew from Blades in the Dark. There's a distinct guild phase which happens every couple of sessions and can change things. Otherwise the play's more unstructured than Dungeon World or Blades. I'm looking forward to seeing what the PCs come up with. If you'd like the single page pdf, you can find that here

WHAT IS IT? Varkith is a crowded island city state and trade hub lying in the middle of the Bejeweled Sea. It’s the largest, densest, and most varied city in the world.

KEY HISTORY: The Green Law rules Varkith. Once there was an Age of Heroes, powerful, selfish individuals who roamed the world pillaging. Some came to Varkith to raze it to the ground. The Green Lady learned new magics and bound these Heroes to the city, creating the first Eidolons.

RULE OF GUILDS: More importantly the Green Lady crafted the rule that no individual could exist and survive in Varkith. Instead everyone had joined with others in Guilds. To thrive, to even exist in Varkith, one must belong to a guild. Hundreds exist, each with a slightly different mandate. They come in many sizes with the largest holding sway over deep powers and large spaces.

WHAT DO WE DO? Life in Varkith is about creating a Guild and clawing your way up. In play you will define your guild’s stated purpose and reputation. We explore stories related to that purpose in unstructured play. When significant time passes in game, we do a brief Guild Turn. NPC guilds on your radar take actions and then your guild makes make a move. We resolve that and work out changes to your guild’s position & stats, then return to normal play.

WHO IS THERE? Many people exist in Varkith. The rules have ten different ones, each of which may be any class. When you choose a people, you gain all their Custom Moves.

PEOPLES: Orkari: Pig-snouted folk of legendary toughness and influence. D’horvae: Fallen builders cursed with scar-magics. V’ss’liga: Squid & Fish-headed folk with a deep faith. Halarth: Tall, semi-insectoid people tied to a legendary culture. Siccyx: Hairless, white skinned humanoids marked with linguistic symbols. Isqu: Humanoids who fear their now-dead god. Krktri: Intelligent ant colonies with mechanical forms. Fellegrith: Corpses ridden by spirits transformed by their escape from The Black Gate. Ym: Extra-dimensional spirits bound to a crystalline matrix. The Freed Ones: Familiars escaped from wizards’ tyrannical rule

INFOVORE: You can find Infovore Nodes across the city, though only the House of News has reliable knowledge of locations. The Infovore’s a creature spanning the city which takes in and passes on information throughout Varkith. Guilders use this system to get and pass information.

CONTROL: The Green Senate contains the bureaucracy of Varkith. Most people only have access to the Grand Chamber, but the actual masters make decisions in the Small Chamber.

PLACES: Some worship at The Statue of the Green Lady, though she claimed no divinity. Largest bazaar in all of Varkith, The Open Market is a stacked, multi-level center of commerce beyond the control of any one guild. The Dockyards stretch along an entire coast of the island. Here adventures may even find their own ship. Temple Row showcases the competition between faiths, sanctuaries, and divinities—come for the gods, stay for the geas. The downtrodden Krktri have purchased a section of the city, The Hiveruns, and changed the architecture to suit their needs. The Mountain has been swallowed by the city, cut with tunnels leading to a massive prison at its heart, The Tomb. Atop the mountain lies a forbidden cube of power.

HIGH & LOW: Two extremes of Varkith show that the city’s promise of equal opportunity is false. The Heaps are tightly packed buildings, constructed one neighborhood atop the other over generations. Nothing is torn down, it simply serves as foundations. The weakest guilds try to eke out a living from here. On the other hand, The Glitters are marble carved estates and galleries owned by powerful guilds and families of Varkith, most often the Orkari. You’ll find most of the Green Senate lives here.

PEOPLE TO WORRY ABOUT: Rival guilds, of course as well as the Green Senate. But you should also be aware of The Jadethroats, servants of the city who can call upon the powers of the Eidolons to enforce the Green Law. The Lawkeepers, who handle most other justice. The Street Souls magically connect themselves to Varkith and can even reshape it. The Green Monks secretly (and illegally) worship the Green Lady.

FUTURE: Varkith has prospered and grown under these rules, but corruption, stagnation, and forces the Green Lady couldn’t have predicted have begun to threaten the city’s stability. 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Hearts of Wulin Origins: Turncoat Lovers and the Return of Ageless Sin

Last week I ran Hearts of Wulin four times for Games on Demand Origins. (Full disclosure: I joined the Origins GoD advisory board this year). Overall we had good attendance-- some games didn't make in some of the weaker slots (Thursday's wonky, as is Sunday morning). But we filled every table in most sessions. I saw a bunch of Gauntlet people and folks I knew from G+. I actually introduced myself to people this time and got to talk to Sarah Richardson, Morgan Ellis, Mike Olson, and James Mendez Hodes among others.

As for Hearts of Wulin I came away from each session happy and spotted new ways players could engage the moves and options. I’m going to talk a little about what I did and what I saw. Then I’ll show off a new, sixth playbook that I took to the con, The Unorthodox.

I laid out the character playbooks just before the con; that let tweak moves and add player agendas. Handling entanglements presented a challenge. Most PbtA playbooks put relationship/background questions on the sheet itself. I wanted to keep everything on a single sheet do I needed room. Entanglements, for better or worse, aren’t tuned to a particular playbook. So I created a deck of 100+ cards with Romantic and General entanglements on them. I dealt players three of each and let them pick. They could redraw if none fit their concept. It worked well. It mixed up the threads each session and gave me more layout space. It’s a technique I might use for other PbtA games.

I wanted to make this process easier since players might feel out of their element. To help I made up character cards, male and female, with pictures. On the back of each I put sets of three male, female, neutral, wulin, or fighting style names. Those worked well; players could pick images for their character and NPCs from their entanglements. Sherri had a final suggestion after a f2f home game: a walk-through of the character creation process.

At the table I introduced myself and Hearts of Wulin’s concept, “Think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with equal emphasis on relationships and action.” Then I handed out basic moves sheets. I went through each playbook quickly. Since each of the six have three “role” variants, I tightened that as the sessions went on. Once everyone picked we moved through the character creation list. As they worked, I dealt out sets from the character picture deck. Once they’d gotten a couple steps into the process, I passed out the entanglement cards. There’s a lot to take in so I staged it.

With everyone having a rough outline, we went around to do quick introductions. I made notes, asked leading questions, and recorded their move picks. Then we went around twice filling in their two entanglements. For session three and four I used double whiteboards on the table to record names and draw lines for the connections so everyone could see. That helped a lot.

Character creation ranged from an hour to an hour +15. We took a break and then I threw them into the deep end. I used weddings, retirement ceremonies, and attacks by a long-dead foes to kick off the situations. Everything rolled out from there. We played for 2 ½ to 3 hours and I think in almost all cases I managed to spotlight everyone’s entanglements or at have their NPCs made an appearance.

OK, that's enough patting myself on the back. It was a good show and I really like Origins. Now I have to get ready for Gen Con. I'm going to be running for Magpie which will be a new challenge.

  • Morgan Ellis pointed out that the triangular entanglements need to connect between PCs. He suggested asking players to include one PC in each triangle. That’s a smart idea. It would give us at most eight NPCs in a four player one shot. I will try that next time.
  • Inner Conflict’s a good move, but I need to be explicit about when and where it happens. I also think there might be a way to incentivize it. I don’t want players repeatedly rolling for the same entanglement. It shouldn’t trigger when they just run into someone from that triangle, but when the situation becomes strained. I didn’t have any issues of push back on this, but I can tell from my own uncertainty I’ll need to spell that out better for GMs.
  • Some of the playbook moves with rolls don’t have a stated fail result. I want to specify those. On the basic moves sheet the Hearts & Minds move isn’t clear about the break between NPC and PC effects. That’s an information design issue.
  • I want to use an alternate XP system for one-shots so players can advance and give weight to the XP generating choices (from PC pressure, showing mercy). In the last session I offered XP on a Miss and gave an XP for rolling Inner Conflict. I also made advances cost only 5 XP.
  • A couple of the playbooks have roles that aren’t as useful for one-shots. For example those having to do with travel and new places. I should point those out those when I intro the roles.
  • Finally the new playbook, The Unorthodox, worked. I think someone picked it three of the four sessions. I did see a couple of issues. First, it has the potential to shift the tone. Pam Alexander pointed that out after the first session. I don’t think that’s bad, but it’s worth polling the table about. Second, I need to be better about providing opportunities for the moves from this playbook. John Alexander played the Prodigy in S3, but I didn’t give him great chances to use The Golden Lion or Kid with the Golden Arm. I noticed that after the fact.

I have three big tasks I’m going to move to next. First, explanatory text for the players and GMs about the moves. I need to define scale, move triggers, and marking chi. Second, I want to walk through each playbook. I’d like to put examples for each role and talk a little bit more about what their moves mean. Third, I want to lay out the process of campaign and setting building.

You say you don’t know martial arts and you believe that. But somehow you tumble through conflicts and flummox opponents. You have a style element, but no style or weapons beyond what you mistakenly pick up. Maybe it’s luck, a curse, someone taught you without your knowledge. The first time you fight a named opponent, you gain +1 Forward. However you must always show your opponent mercy.

You try to hide your martial skills. You might be fleeing enemies, running from duty, fulfilling an obligation, or protecting someone secretly. When you fight—against named foes or mooks—you may hide your stance. They will not recognize your skill and consider you merely a nuisance. If you win at a cost, you may offer discovery as part of that. On a miss your opponent realizes you’re something unusual. If another PC tries to pierce your disguise, resolve that as a PC vs. PC duel.

You have great power, perhaps beyond your ability to control. You may be untrained, cursed, or gifted with these technique. When you roll your style element to Duel, Deal with Mooks, or Impress, you may roll 3d6 and take the two highest results instead of just 2d6. However on a miss or when playing costs for partial success, you additionally cause collateral damage to the environment or people.

You have +1 Ongoing when interacting with common, salt-of-the-earth folk. You know how to show them you’re one of their own.

When you have your style element marked, you may opt to continue fighting by rolling +# of chi marked (max. +3). If you do so and have to mark chi, you instead mark Wounded and cannot continue fighting.

You have a loyal pet. It has been trained and responds to your commands. Choose two of the following tags for it: Adorable, Beautiful, Burrowing, Distracting, Hidden, Laborer, Messenger, Mount, Mimic, Performer, Sneaky, Tracker.

When you have your character walk alone into a dangerous situation you’re aware of but they aren’t, roll and mark XP. On a 10+ something alerts you before your adversaries take advantage; gain +1 Forward. On a 7-9, you’re taken somewhat unawares—the enemy can act before you (even the scale, seize something, change the locale, reveal a trap, close off escape, frame you). On a miss you fall into their trap or ambush

When you defeat a named foe, you may humiliate them comically if you show them mercy. You don’t mark XP but instead gain a bond with them. You may also choose a person or group who now views your opponent in a different way. Say who and how they now see them.

When you try to break something which can be broken, roll. On a hit you break it. On a 10+ you do so spectacularly or with impressive control. You may create cracks, trace characters, shatter into powder, break later, or collapse something massive (like an inn). On a 7-9, you simply break it or you may take the 10+ result by marking chi. On a miss choose: mark chi or have your breaking go horribly awry.

A secret group or order aid you. You may not be aware of their assistance. Once per session you can flashback to some preparation, interference, or negotiation they’ve done on your behalf. Describe it and roll. On a hit, they succeed. On a 7-9 they do so with attention or reduced effect. On a fail their interference causes you more trouble than help.

When you Study a situation looking for potential trouble, you may freely ask one of these two questions in addition to your regular hold.
• Who here is looking to cause trouble?
• What trouble is X looking to cause?
You gain +1 Forward when you interfere with that trouble

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Hearts of Wulin & Pasión de las Pasiones: Origins GoD

For a host of reasons May got away from me and the blog. I’ve been running games and working on several projects, so I have lots of ideas and cool stuff to post. However I’m holding off for a little bit as Origins is next week! I dig that convention for the game space, chance to meet friends, and reliable access to food.

I will be running sessions for Games on Demand at Origins. Please come by and check that our amazing selection of games. I’m scheduled Thursday morning (9-1), Thursday evening (8-12), and Saturday morning (9-1). I’ll also be manning the desk for the last possible slot, Sunday morning. I’ve got lots of free time so I’m hoping to fill in if they need coverage, run pick-up games, and hang out with people I know from online and The Gauntlet.

Please come by and say hi! If you want to coordinate something, you can send me an email at edige23 AT gmail. I actually have a phone which can check my messages. It’s a crazy revolution in decades-old technology.

I have two games on my menus for the convention:

Hearts of Wulin
Virtue vs. Villainy! Obligation vs. Passion! Justice vs. Tyranny! The heroes of Wulin battle for a better world while struggling with their own intertwined duties, desires, and destinies. You are heroes trying to serve your family, faction, or ideals. High-flying action, romantic confusions, and secret schemes abound. This game aims to emulate the high drama feel of stories like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Fox Volant of Snowy Mountain; Painted Skin; Proud, Smiling Wanderer; Princess Agents, and more. Tales of misunderstandings, betrayals, and farce mix with martial arts action.

This PbtA hack borrows liberally from Apocalypse Engine games like Masks, Monster Hearts, and The Veil. We’ll tune characters and relationships in the first hour and then throw into action-melodrama in the wulin world.

I’ve recorded some sessions of this, you can check out the most recent ones here:

Pasión de las Pasiones
Pasión de las Pasiones is a PbtA tabletop role-playing game where you play the cast of the world’s most dramatic and exciting telenovela: Pasión de las Pasiones, as well as the family watching at home. In Pasión de las Pasiones, lies will be exposed, plots will be shattered, hearts will be broken, and if you’re lucky, you might even get a happy ending…at least for now.

We’re using the rules from the Magpie’s recently released ashcan of this. I love melodrama and this game has it. 

If you’re curious about this game you can see my online sessions here:
Twin Betrayals: Session One: https://bit.ly/2sJLalB
Twin Betrayals: Session Two: https://bit.ly/2kPsJs5
The Scent of Love: Session One: https://bit.ly/2JgUF2N
The Scent of Love: Session Two: https://bit.ly/2LqQpP1

I’m also bringing along a couple of “just-in-case” rpgs, including Magic, Inc which uses Action Cards and whatever else I find that looks easy to pack. I'd love the chance to run HoW a few more times for folks who are interested.