I’m way early into running this game to have strong opinions about the best way to run it, but I’ve done two one-shots of it so far. Readers asked for insights, and this is what I’ve got.
For a one shot, I’d do up straight-up-the-middle non-weird builds for each of the five playbooks. Give the role’s key stat a 5. Make sure all the skills are covered among the playbooks, but in particular make sure everyone has 1 rank in Sense Emotion, which is the defense against Dominate. Max out their special role skill as well, that’s awesome niche protection.
Spread around ages and roles so that ranks end up with kind of an even distribution. I had a single tied rank, and that was actually kind of cool.
Work out the NPC relationships ahead of time — do up a little relationship map. Try to reuse each NPC at least once, and cross over the likes/hates line whenever possible. If the Hunter likes the badger scavenger, then the Seer hates the same scavenger. Triangles!
Then, let folks match up the tribes to the book they choose. Use my tribal handouts to make that happen. They’re set up to print two to a sheet. Cut and pass around. Ignore the second key trait attached to the animals, it’s nbd for a one-shot. But do definitely get them looking at their animal powers. I hope you’ve got the power cards because that’s super handy. And because it’s a deck, it kind of soft-forces diversity in choices. I mean folks can share cards, whatever, but they won’t.
Work out ALL the PC relationships at the table. It’s a nice little bit of extra fictional material to hold on to. Have them pick Buddies as well. It’ll take 15 minutes but do it. Point out that it’s an XP thing that isn’t math-relevant, but they’ll use it anyway unless they’re coming off Pathfinder or something. It’s a canary in the coal mine.
I have had both my one-shot groups play out one round of the strategy game, which sets up good fictional context and maybe even puts them in the middle of the shit right away. They’ll have two NPC cells to assign, and you’ll have 100 Capacity for the Watchers to assign. Send Patrols to four Habitats, and a roadblock to the Dogs (they’re already the Watcher collaborators). Then resolve: Patrols really wreck NPC cells and you’ll probably end up killing one or both of them, whatever, wear a helmet next time.
Make sure they pay attention to the proximity/danger as well as the insurgency/help stats. Use my Operations handout!
Both my groups sussed out that what they’re really picking is what flavor of action they want to actually play out by assigning themselves to it. This is great! I haven’t had to spell it out yet but maybe you should if they don’t figure it out. What would be fun for them? And then it’s time for you to improvise.
If they’re having trouble deciding on where to act, nudge them toward the highest-Rank PC’s friendly NPC. Maybe the tribe will help them.
Have the players roughly explain their idea for the Op they choose. If it’s sabotage, brainstorm ideas about how you can really hurt the Watchers that way (not the tribes). If it’s a point attack, same. And so on. Get a rough idea of what their goal is so you can hold them to it later.
Also remember that this represents a month of insurgency action. Have them come across signs of dead cells and Watcher patrol actions. Smoke on the horizon. Rumors during their journeys. Drones on the move overhead.
Travel to the Op
Okay, this is where you play out the hexcrawl grind. Remember that the PC cell operates out of the Helicopter, which is deep in Badger territory.
The Paradise Valley map is weird and mushy, okay? Just get over that. It’s not a grid, it’s not precise, and it’s maybe even a little confusing. Everything you need to know is on the map but look for roads (that’s where the Checkpoints will have to be dealt with) and Inner Fences (which separate each habitat). Point out that forests are the least dangerous way to travel, but it often takes the longest to get where you’re going. Crossing fences between habitats is CRAZY DANGEROUS, point that out as well. In both my games, the PC cell has taken the long way to get where they’re going.
The map is smaller than it looks, given the 2 miles per hour pace. Likely they can get to anywhere on the map in a day. So what’s up with the daily food/water grind, right? They changed the healing rules for Genlab Alpha: each damage takes a food (used to be all damage), each fatigue takes a water. So it’s the encounter grind that you have to pay for.
I don’t charge for water in any habitat. But there are habitats that are noted to be low on food (cats, apes) so I do make them eat there. But while they’re at the Helicopter or in the field? One food and water a day, every day. Point out that the Hunter’s job is to deal with that.
Use the threat roll every time they go through a new type or terrain, cross a fence, or interact with a road (either to walk it or cross it). And that’s pretty mushy because the map isn’t on a grid. I interpret their travel plans charitably, since they’re going to roll no matter what.
Basically this breaks down a couple ways: random stuff generated by travel, and interpersonal stuff in the habitats.
Travel encounters are whatever you roll up. I totally lean on the table in the book and public rolls. Sometimes they’ll get through a whole stretch of forest with nothing. Great! But the odds are against them at the fenceline so I’m not worried. If they literally get from the Helicopter to the target of their Op without encounters? Awesome, time to run a second month of Ops.
I had to fight the urge for the Watchers they encounter to be murderbots. They can be but that’s not the Watchers’ job (yet)! They’re there to maintain the health of the animals, so the Watchers will use their nonlethal methods. That’s not necessarily good news for the cell, since once they’ve been Broken they’ll probably get dragged off to the Labyrinth for vivisectioning evaluation and counseling.
Encounters in the Habitat locations (the Lodge, the cabin village, the warren, etc.) are where you leverage those NPCs you precreated. Watch for names in the book! If it’s a numbered name, I take that to mean they’re not insurgents. But quite a few NPCs have rebel names, so I take those to be insurgency sympathizers.
There are no ranks written out but every NPC has a rank. Super important for Dominance tests. Oh yeah, and the fact that literally every contested social encounter is Dominance is super interesting. If they’re being soft and reasonable, point out that they’re not Dominating anyone. Some interesting emergent fiction comes from this, I think.
Eventually your PC cell is gonna want to see if they succeeded or failed at the thing they wanted to attempt. Remember how they set a rough goal earlier? Now you hold them to it. You’ll need to lay out exactly what you think “success” entails, no matter what they chose. The important thing is that you move things along so that they get a shot at their Op within the event slot.
I do the thing from The One Ring where I don’t bother with travel back to the Helicopter or any Habitat: the highlight of the action was the Op, and the travel is just punishment.
Hope it’s helpful! Ask questions!