Easy Mode

By far the easiest game for me to run is Sagas of the Icelanders.

Some of it is just system mastery: it’s a small-footprint PbtA, so nobody really needs to track any external economies beyond Bonds. No minigames. It’s focused, nails what it aims at, and I genuinely love the premise as well as the design solutions to some very thorny problems. Gendered as a stat and a concept is just brilliant.

Beyond system mastery, though, there’s the system itself. There are three killer apps in the game, and if you’re aware of them you can leverage them:

* The particular set of relationship questions is seeded with really great, tight melodrama. It reflects a claustrophobic setup without being entirely constrained by that claustrophobia. Compare it to, say, Cartel, which creates a really tight relationship map but literally every relationship is aimed back inward. The Cartel r-map feels small where the SotI r-map feels like it can expand.

* Bonds: very simple economy that’s easy to engage and it crosses between the players and the GM. I love this so much and I wonder why more PbtAs haven’t gone there. Urban Shadows does, a bit, in that Debt can be an NPC asset as well. It’s close but not the same. They do different things (bonds add new information, debt ties together storylines) so it’s not a perfect comparison.

* Honor: it is entirely a fictional positioning thing, which I think is a showstopper for a particular category of player that prefers to see things quantified. And it is quantified, a bit, in that a move gets triggered when your honor is in question. But it’s really on the GM to make honor “matter.” And it’s on the players to play it up without much specific incentive to do so.

So, yeah. For whatever reason, I can whip out SotI pretty much any time and anywhere. Like I did at in proximity to NewMexicon for a big table (six!) with zero prep.

My followup is Mutant Year Zero. I’ve got that one on lock. I have faith in the random outcomes that emerge from zone exploration, the dice require a good decision point, and I adore the split play mode (ark and zone). I don’t love it in the long term, since character development is just getting better and better at shit. That’s the one PbtA lesson the Fria Ligan folks didn’t take: make advancement about expanding the situation for the character, not just a steady competence ramp-up.

There are other games I find easy to run. But! Easy isn’t always fulfilling. Burning Wheel and Torchbearer are a bear to run but very fulfilling! The One Ring and King Arthur Pendragon are tough to run but also very fulfilling, particularly across long campaigns.

Huh…I’m sitting here (recovering from last night’s sleep study, be gentle) trying to think of easy-but-not-fulfilling. I can’t come up with one! I feel like I’m pretty good at extracting fun/fulfillment from most anything I set my mind to regardless of easy or difficulty. And the games that are Not My Jam get discarded awfully quick, as in the very first session. Ain’t got time for that!

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0 thoughts on “Easy Mode”

  1. “particular set of relationship questions” What set is that? I find the built in questions (that I’m thinking of) dull. “This one is my wife.” Oh, juicy.

  2. We’ve had this conversation before.

    Not those questions. The other ones. They synergize with the “boring” ones. They’re only boring out of context!

    “This one is my wife” -> that wife “shares a bed with this one” who isn’t her husband?

    Obviously it’s on the players to mix it up. But, yeah, the boring half is important for making the not-boring half not-boring!

  3. MY0 also has a character death-spiral mechanic in that using your mutant power can get you more mutant powers which lower your physical and mental stats… Did you find that overwhelmed by advancement?

    I’m about 12 sessions into a MY0 game and so far I and the other players have missed getting additional powers, but done pretty well on gaining xp.

  4. John Powell kind of yeah. Although stat dice are better than skill dice for earning mutation points.

    For whatever reason, in our game (10 sessions?) there were quite a few new mutations earned. You’d think that’d mean more opportunities to push and spend, but it kind of didn’t.

  5. That giant R-map makes me want to come to your house and play games with you. I’ll start walking now, I’m in New Zealand so it will take me a while to get there.

  6. That’s a slight bummer to hear about MY0. I’m on the cusp on diving full-into that game….

    Can you extrapolate what would make Torchbearer (although I’d hear about the others too) more fulfilling in the long-term?

  7. I’ve seen pics of your giant relationship maps before – but seeing one right there on the table surrounded by people at play, and totally dominating the play space? It really brings it home in a way your many other posts about them has not. Pictures and 1000 words and all that.

  8. I would SO love an extensive/extended post by you on relationship mapping and how to do it at the table, etc. Also, I am going to summon Lowell Francis since I know he adores MY0. (Now that is two people who seem to really dig it – I sense I am going to need to pick it up soon… Recommendations on what stuff to pick up?)

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