Scum Day!

Scum Day!

Last night was our triumphant return to Scum and Villainy. It’s been hard to get back to back weeks of play with the school year starting. Which is weird because I thought it was stupid summer vacations that broke up our rhythm. Dunno. Kids are the worst. Really just families in general.

This was our fifth or sixth session, I can’t remember, and the first one where they had clear marching orders from clear bosses: last session, they ended up destroying their Stardancer and had to ask for a solid from one of the character’s affiliated factions. So, new boss same as the old boss, except they haven’t formally stolen this ship yet.

There are now really clear lines connecting the crew to factions now, which I felt like was hazy for the first several sessions. Janus Syndicate is now actively hunting them for stealing and then destroying their ship; the Nightspeakers have revealed themselves to be the true force behind “The Dark” faction that we’d made up. It’s turned out to be really easy to slot a canonical faction into position since the rest of the S&V campaign materials already support them. Neither the Concordiat Knights nor Vigilance made an appearance but everyone’s acutely aware of them. Same with the Ghosts. So basically we’ve got a constellation of five-or-so Tier 2 factions and they’re now formally a Tier 1 crew, so that feels about right. Anything bigger and they’re just not a big enough deal for the other factions to care about.

If I had a gripe at this point, it’s the big undefined space around the characters’ drives/beliefs/heritage/background, and in a very similar way the crew’s goals/drives/inner conflict/essential nature. I’m absolutely sure these were deliberate choices on the part of the design team. I don’t love those choices! And that’s okay. But every session, we tally up our XPs and that question comes up, and nobody really knows how to answer it. Only one character, the Mystic, has nailed down a drive/belief/heritage core: he really wants to become a Nightspeaker Adept. But! The reason he could hook into that is that it’s a mechanically supported thing to chase. If he takes 3 “Veteran” advances on his playbook, the special ability he chooses can be from the Nightspeaker faction. That’s cool and special and it gives the player something to strive for. Neither the Muscle nor the Scoundrel have come upon a similar goal, and I don’t know that they will. The Muscle is just kind of coming into his own violent nature (he has been a reluctant tough guy until this session, where he finally decided that overkill might be enough kill), and the Scoundrel has consistently been a self-serving addict scumbag, but we can’t quite disambiguate that characterization from the third XP question, “you struggled with issues from your vice or traumas during the session.”

Some of that gap, too, is the gig emphasis of the game. Every session they’ve got one or more Jobs, and they do those jobs, and their investment is largely in getting through a job without fucking dying. (I’m running a pretty gritty game.) But they haven’t really thought beyond the next paycheck at all.

So, like, yeah. It’s a void that needs filled but I’m not sure it’s especially fruitful. It is when there are tools to help the players decide what to chase, but it’s just kind of a point of frustration when there aren’t. We’re still talking through, every session, what to do about that.

On the crew characterization front, I think they’ve settled on “constantly bickering” as their “essential nature.” When they got their new ship from the Nightspeakers, Enigma, they changed their reputation from “professional” to “daring.” That was a fun change, and it’s more fun for them to chase.

Other than the factions coming into focus, the other really satisfying part about running S&V is that I feel like I’ve really nailed down the whole action roll transaction: consequences are getting easy to call out, describing greater and lesser outcomes is getting easier as well (or just not really having anything, but saying so out loud so they don’t spend time and energy deciding whether to shift position or push for effect). Stras I think has sold me on the utility and overall goodness of the Blades way! And I think the players appreciate having some choices to make each time they roll.

We’re still discovering weird little wrinkles in the rules! Did you know you can push to increase effect? I didn’t, not until we stumbled across it in the rulebook. That rule doesn’t appear anywhere on the rules reference sheets. Also, maybe, you can push to ignore an injury effect…but I’m not actually sure. That’s an implication from the Muscle playbook’s “flesh wound” move, which says it only costs 1 stress to ignore wound penalties instead of 2. For the life of me I cannot find a rule about pushing to ignore wounds anywhere, like, at all. There’s kind of an oblique reference in “Stress & Trauma” in the rulebook but all it says is “take action when you’re incapacitated.” Is incapacitation any level of harm? Or just the top-tier “need help” level? Dunno. I mean the probable answer is that “ignore wound penalties” is synonymous with “incapacitated.” Seems like a small thing that slipped past editing, is all.

So yeah, game is still cool, it’s building momentum, and I’m looking forward to seeing it through to the end.

16 thoughts on “Scum Day!”

  1. I’ve looked at those drives/beliefs/nature xp triggers as the freebies, essentially. Did you show up and avoid actively sandbagging the game? Here’s an XP. For when a character actually does nail down their goal and strive towards it, I like to give out that coveted 2nd XP per trigger.

  2. I think of the Drives/Beliefs/Heritage question as a way for players to point out something fun about their character to the rest of the table, particularly for quiet, shy or mechanically focused players. Since the players say if they earned the xp, it gives them a chance to recapitulate and reflect on the session, calling out good things and things they want to see again from themselves and each other. They might say “Hey, remember that cool flip? I did that because I grew up in the circus.” or “Remember when I totally knew all about Rendian Space Madness? I wanted to mention that I liked that and it was cool because I want to investigate space madness.” I’ve also see it work in the reverse sense, too, where some players wanted another to take experience for something, but that player didn’t want their character to be defined by that action mechanically.

  3. Oh god, families. One of my usual crowd, who also happens to be the host of most of our game sessions, is a step-parent of two kids, one of whom is now going to living with bio-dad during the school week and with my friend only on weekends. So he’s had to drop out of our Friday game, sending… basically all games into a spiral.

  4. John Dornberger you know, that’s a good point about the players deciding on their own xp. They sort of already do it. I don’t really have any say, mostly I just remind them that they’re due an XP when they’ve forgotten. But they’re hard on themselves, I think.

    I’ll consider reframing the heritage/background thing. Might be as little as good roleplaying that isn’t vice/trauma.

  5. When you have a Lv 3 wound you are incapacitated. You cant move anywhere without someone’s help and you can’t take any actions UNLESS you push yourself to do so. I believe the Muscle special ability is talking about this and saying you can act with a level 3 wound for only 1 stress instead of the usual 2.

  6. I always squirm while sitting though the end of session experience questions. This is mostly because it’s an unfamiliar situation for me. The questions are so player facing oriented, that I don’t get the usual cognitive feedback of other reward cycles. The questions are there to help the Player Character’s refine their own play, and not to help the GM formulate sessions.

    I was quick to hack in explicit Beliefs and Drives, because I like taking those statements as telegraphed player interest and forming sessions around those ideas. But then I was also quick to realize how disruptive focusing on player level goals can be for the crew based job to job sandbox. Its was with that realization that I started viewing characters as tragic figures and the crew as the real engine of dramatic change. Being explicit about the crew’s goals can be helpful for a GM. Even better, the workshopping of such goals can occur in game in character and lead to some satisfying play.

    I still miss prepping session around Xp triggers though. The closest I got to a fix was an add on xp trigger I called “Professional Pride”. These would be always/never statements about how each scoundrel prefers to conduct their business, and if the PC takes on trouble to maintain their pride they get xp at the end of the session. Some examples would be the master of disguise who never drops character while on the job, or the acrobatic prowler who always avoids confrontation. I find this kind of xp trigger useful to play up the player’s idea of their character and helps the GM prep interesting challenges.

  7. Aaron Berger yes! You’ve totally nailed a thing I’ve been dealing with every session. Character-driven sandbox play is a beautiful unicorn but damn is it hard, as a practical matter, to keep it going. Can’t really prep in either style but you have to keep both in mind at all times. Augh.

    I think they actually have been workshopping their goals and character stuff through play, and it’s emerging organically albeit slowly. And it’s not mechanically or procedurally explicit, right? There’s no way to fall back (maybe defensively?), and say “hey player, you said these were your flags and you said this was your crew’s flag, and that’s what I’m working toward.” Saying their goals and drives out loud kinda sorta bridges that gap, but it feels different than writing it out or doing it prescriptively. Are they still flags if they’re ex post facto?

    It’s a totally different interplay and it kind of requires psychic powers. Which is most trad play in a nutshell.

  8. Paul Beakley I don’t think trad play is the inspiration, but rather the game has a radical design philosophy of a flat hierarchy. This philosophy effects the player side as well. I see it come up with resistance rolls, where players are so use to accepting consequences that they forget to assert themselves and try to resist things. You can see it in the action rolls where the PC picks which action they’d like to use, while the GM chooses position and effect. The game is constantly creating opportunities for all players to check in with each other to see if things are going well. I’ve heard John Harper describe it as, “The players’ are responsible for their own fun.”

    This design philosophy is also reflected in the reward cycle. I think the absence of explicit statements is very intentional. The game does not want GM to decide what is and is not worth xp. The XP questions are not there to dictate proper play. They are there to encourage discussion after session and to be a tool for the players to reflect on their own play. Incongruities may occur in play, but the rules take every opportunity to encourage checking in rather than enforcement.

    All that being said, I definitely find it hard to let go of the steering wheel. Designing scenarios to challenge specific Flags has become one of my favorite mind puzzles, and I have difficulty prepping sessions without it. Luckily, I don’t think a single FidD game has come forward that doesn’t have a rich evocative setting. Making sure the GM has plenty of inspiring material to pull upon.

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