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.