Actual Play: a|state (part 2 of 9)

This is part 2 of 9. I’ll post another every few days so you have time to catch up.

If you’ve just run into this one somehow, this is an edited version of my actual play reports of a|state I wrote for our Slack while I was working on my deep dive of the game. Terrific campaign, learned a lot about not only a|state itself but FitD games and long-form play as well. The series started here.


Game night tonight! The troublemakers’ second formal mission in a|state, in which getting dropped into a war with another faction has had a clarifying effect on their mission planning. 

“At war” means they get only one downtime action each. After laying low (because they’re at war and can’t do enough in one downtime, so they take a second downtime and just let the faction clocks spool out; it was hilarious to quietly go through my “secret” list and mutter “yup, yup, yup, ehhh not this one, yup…”), the troublemakers are desperate to get the other gang out of their lives. I folded a couple leads on how to do that into their downtime(s). Grateful my players followed the fiction, actually listened to what I had to say and treated it as Facts, not Fluff.

One of the game’s fictional pivots is an orphanage. Visiting a particular orphan is the Lostfinder’s Escape, it’s a Claim controlled by one of the major factions, and I’ve got a city clock running in which the Brown Hats – the competing gang, which is also the TCA’s monkey’s paw, generally bad eggs – are trying to seize that Claim so they can indoctrinate the kids with their weird politics. During downtime, because that clock hit halfway (it’s a trigger in the Trouble Engine that says “mention this bit so the players are aware of the clock”), the orphan the Lostfinder cares for is enthralled by a pile of pamphlets, photos and treats left by the bad eggs — and discovers they come and go fairly regularly! Ta-da, the troublemakers can follow these jerks back to their headquarters!

An interesting logistical wrinkle in our game night means every other session is “short” — 2 hours — because one of the players brings his daughter over to play with my kid, but it’s a school night and we can’t let these monkeys spin each other up late. And the game kinda-sorta implies one mission is one session. That might be more than implied but I’d have to go look. Like, you can let a mission go more than one session but the assumption is that it’s 1:1. But that means I’m thinking hard about a) what their win condition looks like and b) how much can I elide and should I elide it, or let the game feel more expansive. Let the mission blurp out into another evening. I’m leaning toward blurping.

Given the elaborate machinery of the game’s Trouble Engine, there is a need for a mission to end at the end of a session. Running the Trouble Engine is the game’s prep phase, and it’s both tedious and impractical to make folks just sit around and watch me do it. I think that also makes the Lay Low option interesting! Because as a practical matter, I don’t really have time to dig deep and really evolve the situation as much. Which I think is a good thing, if the characters find themselves needing to lay low.

Mission 2: The Aftermath

It’s all fun and games until players start throwing 4 and 5 dice at a time and still miss. I felt reality warp around me when our Lostfinder rolled 3x 1s and 2x 2s. Unreal. I think, no exaggeration, the players probably rolled 40 dice last night and succeeded once.


There’s a certain sadistic pleasure in digging them ever deeper into their fiasco but damn.

This was a good opportunity to learn the last two things in the game they haven’t yet touched: Laying Low (ie skip the mission phase, let things heat up a bit via the Trouble Engine) and Intrusions (ie unskippable mission jammed into the middle of your downtime).

Our Corner needs a win soon. Send prayers to God the Architect for deliverance.

So now they’ve seen the whole game do its thing, now, and that’s A Good Thing. Since they chose to Lay Low (so many caps) they got to watch me run the Trouble Engine in front of them, which was also educational: why noise is bad, why attention is bad, why adding new Troubles is bad, why risking an Intrusion is so potentially bad. Man that’s a lot of bad.

Best news of the night is that my player who didn’t really “get” the lack of planning, the Engagement roll and the flashbacks I think now gets it. He was the target of the Intrusion: a small gang belonging to their enemy faction cornered him while securing meds to heal up the rest of the alliance. Well of course he wouldn’t be out traveling on his own, good lord he’s not stupid, so he had secured their allied faction’s help in keeping them safe on the streets. Given their absolute shit rolling tempo I was super generous in interpreting their allies’ assistance (better position as well as dice or reward). But also that protection’s gonna cost them.

If our session had a downside, it was that our super-beat-up Sneakthief – dude had a 3-Harm and two 2-Harms and wasn’t gonna be out adventuring with anyone any time soon – didn’t really have much to do in two downtimes. Since they’re At War, they only get one downtime action anyway and a bonus single action from their Corner, and he mostly just spent it in a feverish haze on a boat, slowly recovering from being shot multiple times. We sat there a bit and thought about how he could possibly help out during the ambush, maybe using flashbacks, and came up empty. This morning I woke up and the first thing I said to myself was “traps! Damn it! He could have set up traps weeks ago around their hideout.”

<– Part 1 | Part 3 –>

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