The zine I would make if I had time would be all about Marshall Miller’s The Warren.

I have a hack of The Quiet Year in my head (and scrawled out on a few pages of lists and notes) for both setting up a world at the start of play and for use between sessions to show how things change and set up for the next set of pressures. I imagine this as one of the centerpieces.

I would include a playset based on Crown Hill Cemetary here in Indianapolis, with a few options to set the game in one of several historical moments from the 1860s to the present.

I would look at creating character moves, GM moves, threats and the like for a game focused on interwarren drama rather than external threats.

It would be fun to include some more lists and ready-to-go predators, threats, etc.

I would include a short essay about ways to use the innovate move in your game.

It would be fun to include an analysis of a scene from the 1978 Watership Down film and breakdown what moves were made by the characters and GM.

Possible titles:

– The Lapine Letters
– Down in the Warren
– The Tales of El-ahrairah
– Bob-Stones (This is my particular favorite because it is from Watership Down, described as “A traditional game among rabbits,” a guessing game played with stones hidden under a rabbit’s paw)

What would (will) your zine be about?

How and When To Lift

After chatting with MadJay Brown about his Legacy game this morning I think I’ve identified another category of game facilitation expertise: identifying where the creative lifting is going to be.

Honestly, this one’s been at the edges of my peripheral vision for a very long time. I’ve probably been doing it the whole time, but identifying this step with purpose feels like an important self revelation.

The hardest part, I think, is that this is one of those things that’s usually hard to spot from reading. It also requires an attitude of wanting to play the game as it is designed, rather than conforming the game to the way you want to play it. In fact this is probably, called out so specifically, the primary thing that makes it hard to judge a game from a read-through.

For clarification, when I say “creative lifting” what I mean is: the places where the GM/DM/facilitator/whatever needs to inject their own editorial input whole-cloth. So, not just creatively interpreting move results, or cooking up NPCs on the spot. I mean, like…remembering to ask folks about what’s actually going on in the fiction during the downtime phase of Blades in the Dark. Or working out extended family relationships in Sagas of the Icelanders.

My first thoughts are that you basically have two creative lifts to look for:

* The ones that are there on purpose


* The ones not by design but still absolutely necessary to get at what the creator was going for. This is probably a lot of where “designer not included” games fall down.

The first lifts, the ones that are there on purpose, probably are pretty easy to spot from reading. I think this is especially true if you’re aware and experienced in the general style of the game: interpersonal melodrama games (Monsterhearts, SotI, really lots of PbtA, the ark half of Mutant) or gig games (Blades, Scum and Villainy) or travelogue games (the zone half of Mutant, The One Ring). Like if you’re already kind of in tune with melodrama games, you’ll know that during prep you’re gonna need to push players toward problematic, tightly sprung situations. And later, you’ll need outcomes that create new problematic, tightly sprung situations. That’s where your creative lift is gonna be, so those are the skills you need to bring to the table.

The second ones, where it’s not really designed into the game but you still need to get at them, that’s tricky. Because you might be bringing something to the game that it’s not really supposed to do, and you might be creating more friction than necessary. So like…King Arthur Pendragon has all this amazing legacy-building stuff that happens from year to year, right? The year ends and there are rolls that generate new context for the upcoming year. Well, when I was running it I felt like the knights’ relationships with their actual families — wives, children, siblings — added a lot of richness to the play. That’s a lift I wasn’t expecting to need to bring, but it felt important. Or the one Jahmal and I were talking about, making sure that Family moves in Legacy still get good fiction backing them up, otherwise the moves can feel mechanistic and abstract. Strictly speaking it’s not really needed, and the examples of play don’t really get at it, but I can tell you that it makes our game better.

I think where I’ve messed up learned a lot about where to not try and shoehorn in creative lifting has been in feeling out the fun in games I’m utterly unfamiliar with. The One Ring was my first real travelogue game, for example. I started out wanting to create relationship maps and try and build up melodrama within the Fellowship. Turns out they’re moving around and questing too much to make that really make sense! So instead, I had teeny little mini-rmaps within each community that they’d visit, mostly to remind myself of the NPCs, and I gave up on trying to juice Fellowship tensions. An unnecessary lift that got in the way of the travelogue.

Final stuff that’s on my mind at the end of this:

* Knowing where not to lift is just as important. Don’t shoehorn stuff into a game if it’s actively getting in the way of what the game does.

* Identifying future lift areas is hard without some shakeout plays.

* Disliking or resisting lifts where they’re necessary is probably a sign that this game isn’t for you. Or it might just be lack of experience! I resented the shit out of Act Under Fire 7-9s for the longest time, and now they’re my favorite bit of lifting in Apocalypse World.

Legacy Wednesdays
Second Session

We finally played a full, not-set-up session of Legacy last night. It was interesting and fun! And I can already feel the edges of what will end up ending the game for us.

Due to various family scheduling things, we only had 3ish hours to play. But you know, I feel like we cover so much ground so fast in Legacy that 3ish hours is fine. That’s the big take-away for me from this session, if this ends up tl;dr for you: the move sets and the zoomed-out action at the Family level makes the whole thing feel a bit abstract. I do find myself missing the tighter character focus of my favorite PbtAs, but I’m also intrigued by the speed at which events spool out.

I started the session recapping (it’s been two weeks, we’re mostly old and forgetful these days) our first session. Not a lot had happened that first time around, so I kind of pitched it as a vignette of life in our world: here’s the knights on horseback, here’s the weird superscience clones handing out aid, oh and also underground vampire lairs. We could either call it good and jump an Age, or dive back in. Since nobody had had more than, like, an hour with their characters, they wanted to stick around.

Lots of the evening was spent experimenting with the Family moves and learning how to push the economies around. There are basically three interlocking economies, and some loose ways to manipulate them. The big one is gaining and losing Resources, of which there are lots but they all get manipulated in the same way: you can snag ‘em via treaty from other players’ Families, or you can go out in the world and get them. Curing Needs is math-identical to gaining Surplus, at least until you’ve addressed all your Needs. So it’s kind of whatever the players find interesting.

EDIT: the other two economies are Tech and Data. I’ll talk about them in a different post.

The affordance to grab a resource either comes from the Family-level Uncover Secrets move, or diegetically, EDIT or by cashing in Treaty on another family to take their stuff. Nobody has had the guts, yet, to pull this last one. That second one is tricksy and I feel like the players really need to telegraph their intent/expectation that something they’ve spotted inside the fiction at the character level is, in fact, a big enough deal to warrant counting as a resource. I don’t know that anyone’s comfortable with that yet, so they’re all sticking with Uncover Secrets and letting me, as facilitator, specifically tell them “this is how to get your Surplus” or “this is how to deal with your Need.” It’s fine and a little mother-may-I. We will probably evolve past this.

We had two zoom-ins last night, both featuring the Quick Character rules. I really do dig the Quick Character concept, and I’m calling it out as an IGRC-trademarked Killer App of Legacy. The first bit got shaped up via Dawnbreak’s (they’re the Lawgiver family) Conduct Diplomacy move, in which they scored a meeting with Camelot’s (they’re the Tyrant King family) Queen. This whole sequence really highlighted for me some good ways to put the Family move set to use: there are times where you’re just better off dealing with things at the character level. Like, mechanically. In the case of Dawnbreak, their focus character has a move, Hunter for Hire, that lets her swap in Force for Sway when they make the Find Common Ground move and use their combat skills as leverage. You can’t model any of that at the Family level, so this is a very slick combo.

The resulting meet between Dawnbreak’s focus character and Camelot’s Queen was terrific. The Tyrant King’s focus character was super well suited to the meet, and had lots of good scheming to do. We made a Quick Character of Earl Michael, a badass noble of one of Camelot’s farflung towns and a good pretender to the throne. It didn’t really take long to get up to speed, although it was our very first Quick Character and it’s not so quick the first time! You need to assign stats and pick a couple moves. Because those characters go into binders for future use, you also kind of don’t want to design them super specifically for right-now stuff. Well maybe you do! But in our case they decided to go with the big picture of what they were thinking the Earl was about.

Lots of good talk, I feel like I’ve got a good grasp on playing the Queen, and we wrapped the whole thing up with, I think, just one roll of Find Common Ground. Yeah. I think it really was just the one final “how did this shake out?” roll. Then they zoomed back out, did a big assault on an NPC, and that was that. The whole sequence felt very on-brand for what Legacy offers.

The other slick combo came with the Ark (the Enclave family) looking to secure a big weird computer that’s been dragged deep into some spooky ruins as an object of worship by these vampire things straight out of I Am Legend. Right so the Ark nerds are terribad at kicking ass, and they should be, right? Claim By Force is the Family move, and it’s based on Grasp, and the Ark’s grasp is not how they get shit done. So we kind of fumbled through some maneuvering of the moves, this time focused on risk-amelioration: Calling in Debts and Lending Aid, mostly, to nail down important Family moves. I think there’s a bit of patience needed to really optimize the Family level of play, both to get what you want but also to identify the right moments to Zoom In on.

The second zoom-in featured two Quick Characters, with an expedition into the vampire-infested ruins led by the Arc’s focus character, a Scavenger. Once the players saw the good goodies you get when you Zoom Out after playing a QC, they were quite a lot more enthusiastic about it. I feel like everyone still got to make moves and play hard and be involved, but also their eyes were always on their Families’ various prizes. We also spent some time nailing down what is outside “safe areas,” mostly to facilitate the Scavenger’s good move powers that only fire off when they’re in “wasteland areas.”

At the end of the session I felt like I could see just how our game will end. I don’t know how many more sessions we have in this Age, I hope not many, but there’s kind of a hiccup here. On the one hand, the trigger to end an Age is “when you feel you’ve dealt with the threats and opportunities of the current Age.” That’s a gut check. There’s nothing mechanical about this, and that’s good and necessary. But! At the same time the The Age Turns move is a +Mood roll, and the players of course are gonna want to make that roll with their Mood on the plus side. Well…Mood is rendered as Surplus minus Need. And they have all kinds of tools – specifically the Uncover Secrets Family move – to address both of those things. I fear we’re gonna get stalled out in that: they’re going to want Mood +3, and will keep Uncovering Secrets until they’ve made it happen. And I’m not sure that facilitating the game actually gives me the authority to say “nope, you’ve dealt with the threats and opportunities, you’re done, just roll.” I’m gonna have to rely on the good will of the players to get us through that, I think.

Some of that tension, I think, comes from the abstractedness of all of Legacy. Like, character action is very much grounded in getting shit done rather than following their lives around. I mean I did my level best to introduce hot character drama when I could! Like Camelot’s focus character is now faced with the very real possibility of overthrowing his own Queen and placing Earl Michael at the “head” of the family to gain a Leadership surplus. That was all generated via Family moves, and I’m proud of that outcome, but that’s definitely on the GM’s shoulders to make happen. The Ark’s stuff is all very practical and impersonal, because their problems are practical (defense of the Ark) and impersonal (fix the big dam that supplies their power). That’s on me! But it’s definitely the big load I’ve recognized I must take on, because without that personal investment, the game can very quickly become a boardgame-type abstraction. And nearly everything about the game tugs everyone in that direction.

Hellcold day 3, family is keeping their distance, so I took a swing at solo A Feast for Odin.

They say breaking 100 in the solitaire game is hard but I just got 123. Pretty sure I didn’t even cheat!

I grabbed Iceland as early as I could and it paid big time. I maxed out my income by the fifth round, I think, pulling in 26 bucks each turn. When you can just pay to carpet your lands in money, it makes it pretty easy to score big.

Then again the solitaire game is quite different, yeah? Like, nobody else is chasing the exploration tiles.

Mighty Old Empires

My Mighty Empires box is one of the few gaming relics I held on to through various purges and moves and fits of pique. No idea why I held on to it, but when my daughter was born I was like yeahhhh…we’re gonna play this someday.

Then, a few weeks ago, through sad circumstance I came into possession of another copy of ye olde Mighty Empires. The previous owner kept way better care of his stuff than I did, as you can see in the pictures. My box is just loose shit, his was bagged and well organized. It turns out his box was also hiding a copy of Dragon Masters, another Games Workshop title from 1990ish or so.

What a trip down memory lane! I found some copies of White Dwarf I had gotten with great little expansion rules articles. I remember using all of them. Issue 155 also has a big breakdown of new (!!!) miniatures they had released or would be releasing. I was probably in the midst of a divorce at the time, because I completely forgot such things existed.

So I ran off to eBay and, sure enough, Mighty Empires seems to have had quite a life after we parted ways. There was some big elaborate expansion box with 3d locking terrain tiles, of course all the expansion minis, campaign books. Good grief.

I remember getting, wow, hundreds of hours of pleasure out of just plain old Mighty Empires, without even bothering with the WHFB side of the whole thing. We played it entirely as a strategy game, not a campaign frame, and it was weird and completely unbalanced and so great. I cannot wait to see if my kiddo, who turns 7 in a few weeks, takes to it.

I think I’d added a fistful of Monopoly houses and hotels to stand in for extra villages and towns. I’m super excited to have a whole second box’s worth of bits! I might even get around to painting the rest of it someday.

Okay, actual talk time now.

If I put up, dunno, a Payhip or a Patreon or something to pay for a copy of this, would I be able to cover the nut? It’s like $250 or so.

In return I would totally tear it down, write about it, spoil the shit out of it or whatever. It seems like the kind of thing where folks who were ready to splash out for this ultra-luxe product probably had already done so based entirely on the strength of Monte Cook’s name, or are holding back because they’re not really sure what they’re getting out of it.