Scumday Wedneday

Scumday Wedneday

The weirdest thing happened last night. I think I talked myself out of Scum and Villainy.

I don’t think there’s anything at all wrong with the game itself. I’m feeling the teeniest bit aggravated that I keep discovering little rules wrinkles (last week: every separate consequence gets its own chance to resist; this week: each of the three little arrows next to Veteran is its own advance). But that’s not it.

Last week we had a really tense, fun session with guest star MadJay Brown. It was fun! It was the first time the crew had gone up against a higher-tier opponent. They pulled out all the stops, really worked the system hard, somehow pulled it off. Having a fourth crew member was a huge help.

So I had a little debrief before last night’s session. You know, is everyone still into this? and what’s the fun parts we want to see more of? Because I wanted to get at that feeling after last week’s session without just saying so why did last week feel so off?

I got back lots of aggressive “oh it’s fine!” and “it’s okay.” Thumbs up but not enthusiastically up. So of course I started offering my own debrief back:

* On my end of things, the sessions are super fun to run on their own. The transaction is fun and fruitful!

* I’m not really feeling much big-picture storyline forming up. It all feels like gigs. And if I don’t take the time to prep a bit (I did not last night) then I don’t really see anyone actively pursuing story stuff.

* I don’t really feel strong characterization coming off anyone, probably because the system is crunchy and demanding enough that it’s taking up most of that creative bandwidth.

And by the time I’d said all that, inside, I was doing the Emma Stone meh face. I think I’ve talked myself out of this game.

So…I’m not sure where we go from here. It could be that it was just an off night, and we need to allow for off nights once in a while. Orrrr it could be that we’ve kind of seen what the game has to offer, and they’ve advanced enough that everyone’s is quite good, mechanically speaking, at getting what they want. (It’s true, everyone’s got 7 or 8 advances and it’s getting hard to really challenge them.) Or of course there’s the siren call of other games, games yet to be played on my list: Legacy, SCUP, Forbidden Lands soon, Mechatron, whatever. The list never gets shorter.

Or is it that thing at the back of my mind now, knowing that Plus is going away and the Indie Game Reading Club is either moving shop or closing shop. Writing here has been enormously fulfilling, occasionally more than playing itself. I know it’s gotta be a part of it.

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0 thoughts on “Scumday Wedneday”

  1. I would hate to see IGRC close shop.

    Isn’t this your 5th or 6th session? That’s about when you move on to another game, isn’t it? Is it maybe just that?

  2. I hope it’s moving and not closing. You have a lot of insight.

    My experience running longer-form blades/forged games is maybe similar. Prep feels more necessary to keep the factions stirred up and moving. It becomes more workload to remember the dials you can turn to challenge higher-level crews, especially when (in my case) I’ve often glossed over tier differences in the past or conveniently (or accidentally) forgotten about something that would’ve made it limited effect or so on.

    Then they just roll a 6 on their resistance roll and skate by whatever happened. It’s cool but it also makes it harder to fuck with them so the crew hates those NPC factions and wants to engage with them sometimes.

    The gig thing… I’m not sure about that one. I’m up against that in my own S&V game. Getting them to spend their money so they need more seems to do the trick. 🙂

  3. I went through a very similar debrief after 7 or so sessions of Blades. I had been trying to line up some big picture stuff, but the game doesn’t really seem to want to go there. It was a real challenge to break down a campaign goal into a series of jobs. Though after reading Band of Blades, I can see how it would be done, I’m just not certain I’m the one to do it.

    The lack of characterization because of the heavy crunch is real, too. Most of my players, save one, became just mediums for their character sheets. The guy playing the Whisper, well. He was doing a camp Tim Curry voice for his character, inventing rituals, and cavorting with dark powers at every opportunity. Dude was never going to let some numbers constrain his characterization.

  4. Has Forbidden Lands started shipping yet? I didn’t back it because it was just too much all things considered but I found the fantasy approach of MYZ sounded like a perfect marriage.

  5. I don’t think Blades and Scum and Villainy are super compatible with my style either, but I recognize they’re full of groovy things people like. Lately I’m more into things like RuneQuest and stuff, because I’m an old man.

  6. I echo Mark Delsing: it’s been 8 or 9 sessions and that’s been an upper limit to a lot of your home games. Minus the occasional Pendragon. Sounds like system burnout. Or rather, since it isn’t truly burnout (hair tearing, pitched arguments, etc.): apathy.

  7. Face it: you run HBO miniseries. Run the best HBO miniseries you can, don’t worry that you’re not 10 seasons in and need to come up with musical episodes and animated Scooby Doo cameos.

  8. And in fact I included Scooby Doo as the Black Shuck in a Dresden Files RPG session before, and he was so well received he had a cameo later during the Fight Club homage session.

  9. I never went for jobs-as-storyline with Blades, and I don’t think my players were too interested in that. Instead, our “season arc” came out of playing out their downtime instead of skimming past it. Downtime is all about what the characters want/like/are addicted to anyway, so it’s much more personal than the crime stuff. That gave us plenty of NPCs making emotional demands, ammo for putting the PCs at odds with one another, etc.

    I don’t know how much work you’re putting their contacts or backstories or whatever on display with NPCs as opposed to just the big Factions, so this probably isn’t news to you — but it worked pretty well for my game.

  10. Brad Murray it’s less immoral than Blades, but maybe more… Amoral. The Stardancer crew is built to do crime, and occasionally they’ll opt out of an opportunity (last night: no we’re not kidnapping the security head at the ship impound lot to curry favor with the space vampires who want a snack), but it’s less claustrophobic, easier to find breathing room in space.

  11. I think the game might indeed devolve into a series of gigs primarily because there’s no meaningful way to bring mechanical engagement to off-gig activities. They will tend to take place in safer stances (which are of little interest) or not activate mechanics at all.

  12. Yeah, downtime gets kinda glossed over with our group. It’s mostly strategic decisions and looking at our objectives and stats.

    I agree with Jason Corley that because there’s no real risk, they feel a bit perfunctory.

    One of my three players is really struggling with characterization as well, I’m not really sure if that’s the game tho. The other two have very strong characters.

    Also, I hope these posts continue, I get a lot out of them.

  13. Jason Corley absolutely yes to all those things.

    Another thought occurred to me.

    Exploring a system is pretty high on my own list of motivations. It’s fun and interesting to watch them give me unexpected results, or difficult results, or whatever else that my own brain would not have provided.

    A thing that seems to happen a lot, especially with crunchier systems, is at some point someone will discover some amazing, effective thing. A combo, or a novel implementation, or a little shorthand trick we all agree to. It might be emergent or purposeful or whatever. And it’s so cool to see that thing happen.

    And then it becomes commonplace.

    So like in Urban Shadows, the thing where the ghost never really dies, he just reappears back at his haunted place. Or in Scum, the huge elaborate combos the Mystic can do.

    The first time the Mystic pulled out all the stops we’re all like holy shit that’s perfect! Coooool! And then he does it again and again because now we understand the full implications. And then the Scoundrel takes a playbooks moves that synergizes with the Mystic and we’re high fiving each other even more. And then that becomes commonplace.

    Like, it’s cool when Obi Wan waves off the stormtroopers outside Mos Eisley. But what player wouldn’t then continuously handwave away all future stormtroopers?

    That puts me in the position of finding ways to confront that power, which is me taking away the player’s toy. That kind of sucks. But so does relying on a combo that was cool when it was discovered and now is just game-breakingly effective.

    I totally can’t and don’t blame the player, good grief! The game is built to do this. And as the facilitator, I’m kind of left not knowing how to keep that interesting for him or me.

    Same with the other playbooks, really. I think there comes a time advancement point where the gigs aren’t where the challenges lie, and then we’re back to Jason’s point about the lack of support for activities outside the gig.

    It might be that the game has told me everything it’s going to, and there are no more surprises, and it’s on me that I need more surprises.

  14. It’s like superhero games where a character uses a power in a clever, novel way, just like in the comics. Except the writer of the comic then “forgets” about it, while the player never does.

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