Actual Play: a|state (part 4 of 9)

This is part 4 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.

Mission 4: Winning Hearts and Minds

I’m doing the nested, contingent, racing clocks thing in a|state. It’s going well! Right on the edge of chaos but everything is locked together real nice. Little mini clocks tick up the main Quell the Riots clock, and the Blackcoats, Unknowns, and open street fighting are all threatening to blow up.

This last session we were intentionally trying to run the missions a little longer and more expansively. I think it worked, but it also runs against the limits of the FitD stress system. The in-mission stress recovery option is good and it helps the missions feel a little more like just-playing, which is good.

They figured out they might be working for terrorists, so that’s fun.

It’s kind of an experiment for me! Because I’m trying to slow-roll the Mission phase, and clocks are the main tempo control of the game. I don’t know that I’d make the same decision every time, but this time we’re gonna see what happens.

Like, the Blackcoats are basically the Blades Bluecoats, right? Local constabulary. Ish. This is Mire End, and government is mostly notional community council type thing. Blackcoats are volunteers with a chip on their shoulder. I started that clock as a consequence of a weak hit on a risky roll as the characters escaped a break-in. I could have just jumped to “the Blackcoats arrive” but then I’m like, shit man, I’m trying to not make this another combat tempo mission! Same with the riots restarting in earnest (everyone’s distracted by humanitarian food supply from TCA, which is basically Israel to their Palestine), that one also started as a generic time-pressure thing. And the Uknowns, well, they’re basically Hamas, one of the characters’ backing factions (an a|state thing) and definitely not interested in brokering peace on the streets. That clock came with the mission, since they’re now acting against (one of) their masters’ wishes in trying to quell the chaos they themselves started.

Today it’s a flexible toolbox, tomorrow it’s all smoke and mirrors. FitD!


Another peaceful, totally not problematic a|state downtime stretch.

The longer I play this game the more I think the phases of play are incorrectly named for it. “Mission” is really “Corner Business” and “Downtime” is really “Personal Business.” And that’s reflected in the — imo, I know this is contentious — shift toward more and more meaningful downtime roleplay. Has any FitD renamed their phases? Not that I can think of. Seems like an effective place to use the magic of vocabulary to reset expectations.

I’m on the final pass through my deep dive on the game for the blog today as well. Fingers crossed that posting it won’t fulfill whatever reward I crave and then make me want to move on. But I don’t think it will! We only play like 2-3 hours at a stretch and less happens, but also I pack in more intensity so we can end our sessions on clear notes. I feel like everyone’s got their characters figured out now, our fictional feet are well under us, and they can start thinking more in earnest about What’s Up With That Danger Clock Anyway.

The game-specific skill I’ve really honed for this campaign is folding in the Trouble Engine outcomes into the normal course of roleplay-driven events at the table. It’s working out so well! I have a to-do list of things I need to introduce (escalating troubles, new troubles, faction clocks activating or hitting halfway, ongoing miscellaneous threads) and I interleave them with the downtime actions the characters are doing. It feels organic and like just-roleplaying, if that makes sense. There’s a mandate/rule/something in the downtime rules that says you should highlight Mission ideas as they come up, and that’s easy enough to do both as they come up, and when the alliance comes together to talk about what they’re gonna do next: mostly they’re all roleplaying that stuff so they’re not in a planning fugue, but I’ll also remind them, voice-of-God style, of other opportunities I mentioned earlier (or forgot to mention).

The previous iteration of this style of prep — the GM homework phase — I played with was in Godbound. In that case I didn’t really try to be clever with integrating it into The Fiction, I just announced big happenings like an off-screen narrator. Also good! But different.

Thought I’d share some of the physical ephemera of our game so far. First up is the evolution of our starting r-map. Might be time to do a big cleanup and start over! Some dead people, some new factions, a couple new Claims. 

The big new idea I’m hoping to roll out on their next mission is Lost Places. I’ve been slowly suggesting there are … hmm, otherworldly, I suppose … characters at work in The City. Weirdly, freakishly tall folks who are otherwise embedded in the upper echelons of society So this Lost Place is gonna be a portal back to the Bombardment itself. I think the tall freaks were colonizers, maybe, cut off from their expedition and stuck in The City as it transformed and Shifted under the attack. So they had to melt into society. Just a few of them! Mostly it’s still rich/powerful/ruthless locals being terrible people.I do love all the very weird shit at the back of the book, and in particular the Lost Places. Kind of wish they were a bit more prominently integrated into the rest of the setting. It’s all kinda sorta in there: NPCs who know about certain Lost Places, factions with goals that involve post-Bombardment/-Shift stuff. Probably it’s the right amount. I should be including more of the weird-shit content through my NPCs’ interactions as well of course.

<– Part 3 | Part 5 –>

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