Of course English doesn’t have a word for concepts for which there are no words. That’s how a lot of RPGs feel, taking the “roleplaying is a conversation” bit forward a bit. Specifically I want to talk about Legacy.
We had our third session last night, and we ended it with a Turning of the Age move. This is the killer app of Legacy, the big history arc that gameplay sketches out. It worked okay. We hadn’t looked super closely at the move before making it, so we spent a good long time shopping the Trials (mostly bad with a little good) and Fortunes (mostly good with a little bad) outcomes. The differences between the lists aren’t huge, which is fine but it also makes the roll feel kinda-sorta pointless. Each trial/fortune pair is meant to be a mirror image, and they sort of are I guess. It was fine.
More interesting to me was that the move typically pushes a lot of capital-r Resources into the Families. I think two of the three families triggered the Flush With Resources move. Mechanically this is a super clever little twist: if your Mood would hit 4+ (remember, Mood = Surplus – Need), you erase a Surplus and then choose what happens: give it to someone else, or trade it in for a bonus, or tech, or get new gear going forward. It’s great.
The cleverness is how Flush With Resources interacts with the Wonders rules. Wonders take five Surpluses but you can’t actually carry five Surpluses without at least two Needs, otherwise you trigger Flush With Resources and lose them. But if you bank a Surplus into the advancement of a Wonder, you’ll quickly face negative Mood. It’s great. Love it. It keeps the players from quickly cashing in all their Surpluses to score the Wonder, because doing so will almost certainly trigger the Fall Into Crisis move, the invert of Flush.
Okay! So, to get the players off their marks and get them okay with the Turning of the Age, I passed around the Wonders and talked up what’s involved and what the benefits are. Everyone grabbed a suitable one. I think the timing was about perfect for this, because I was sensing that folks were having trouble finding directions for their Families to go. It’s a tricky bit of Legacy, balancing the forward motion of the Families with the personal dramas of the focus characters. We’re still working on that.
Our Age ended mostly out of boredom, and I didn’t like that at all. Basically everyone pushed their Treaties as far as they could, traded around Resources, and went scrabbling for last-minute mechanical advantages. Nothing about the Age wrapping up was particularly driven by the fiction. The fact we’re playing at the family level for so much of the game, I think, really undermines fiction-first play for us. Drama is about human beings, not history. (Fight me.)
Back to my thesis about words missing from language.
The Missing Words
What really jumped out about this session was the extraordinary difficulty of fitting player desires and needs into the language available to us via the rules of the game. They spent a lot of time trying to describe their plans with inadequate vocabulary. And I spent a lot of time trying to translate into the moves we have available to us.
Here’s an example.
The Enochians (Envoys) have a Need: Morale. Okay cool. They make the Uncover Secrets move and ask “how do I remove Need: Morale?” That’s great, straightforward. My intuition, as GM, leads me to this answer: “Your Ark has been isolated for too long, and the clones are restless and lonely. You really need to intermarry and build relationships with other families.”
It’s a good answer! It fits the themes of the game. But what does that look like, mechanically or otherwise? I had no idea.
The player wants to know, great, what move do I make? I don’t know what to tell him. What will it look like when they trigger the Finding a Surplus move for … relationships? Honestly I have no idea. Some of the capital-R Resources of the game are straightforward, and I feel good handing them out: the Envoy scientists patched up their power generator at the dam, so yeah, sure, here’s an Energy surplus. No problem! I don’t know what “okay, you’ve made some friends” looks like, or what the player needs to do.
Now, that family did establish a trading and commerce center in the wasteland where all the families can meet (it was one of their Fortunes), so might be all they need to do to address that Need: Morale. And that’s fine, but it feels … too easy? Not hooked into the procedures enough? What I’m thinking about now is that I’m spending this time thinking about specific mechanical procedures and helping the players through them. The game requires a good bit of player-facing mastery of the rules to accomplish things, but a lot of what they want to accomplish is still left to the GM to evaluate. The missing link might be more transparency about intent: like, is your intention to start that trading outpost to hit that Morale need? And even if it wasn’t, is it still okay for me to be proactive about identifying Morale as a Surplus now?
Dunno. Still chewing on the session.
Probably the big thing I’m noticing is that it’s really hard to constantly fictionally position the Family moves. Like, everything anyone ever does really needs to look like something in the fiction. But the Surplus/Needs system is super abstract and boardgame-y. It’s a constant tug away from the storyline in my head.
Between the players not really feeling confident in pursuing their family goals, or even having goals absent a Wonder, and me working double time to help shape their plans into something the game’s rules can support, it felt like a lot of work.
My hope is that just going through the Turning of the Age will set us up for a good run of sessions that are back to being character-driven. I think we need that. There are in fact some new fronts and threats on the table, and that’s great. I get to do another round of prep and get them shaped up a bit. I think the Turning move did everything it was supposed to. Guess we’ll see next session. If the players start digging into the Family moves with an eye toward accomplishing Wonders, though, I fear it’s gonna feel very boardgame-y. That will instantly kill my enthusiasm.