Had our third session of Scum and Villainy last night. I was operating on lousy sleep and had had very little time to prep, so we only did one job and one downtime: the crew was hired by a drug-den syndicate called the Turner Society to break into a fish farm of theirs on Aketi (a group of do-gooders calling themselves Vigilance had busted it For Great Justice) and retrieve a live sample of a huge, vicious, hallucinogenic fish. It’s a Turner thing, you wouldn’t understand.
It went pretty well despite a small regression by the players about just how much planning and shit you’re actually supposed to do. It was weirdly hard for them to nail down an approach and an angle, but that was probably at least partially my fault. I’m still feeling out just how much I should be suggesting and guiding, particularly if they start stumbling. It was, for sure, a moment where the job/downtime split felt strongly editorial/stylistic in strong contrast to our/their play-the-day instincts.
I think it’ll still be a session or two before folks are fully bought into the Blades style, where you start doing shit and use flashbacks to fill in how you prepared for said shit. It’s maybe the most storygame-y trick I’ve ever seen in an otherwise fairly traditional game.
So now that we’re a few sessions in, I’m noticing a thing that I had noticed in Blades in the Dark, but it’s showing up in a slightly different way in Scum. My instinct, in most games, is to keep the game focused on the characters, right? Their human needs, their goals and plans and dramas. But as a GM, I also super-like how the baked-in campaign in both Scum and Blades works, that there’s already tons of situation swirling around in The World, some of which might impact the characters’ lives. But those are separate things and come from separate impulses. I feel like I’m trying to run a relationship game in a sandbox. It works, but only sometimes, and it takes more work than doing either of those things on their own.
Probably the easiest relationship game I’ve ever been able to run is Sagas of the Icelanders. The entire game is on the r-map when I run it. There are no “fronts” per se that exist outside the melodrama. There are front rules in that game but honestly I don’t use them. Apocalypse World is closer to the Blades/Scum school, where you’ve got big things in motion represented with clocks. But in that game’s case, the process is to follow the characters around for a bit, then nail down some clocks. The sand in the sandbox exudes from the characters. It wasn’t already in the box, if that makes sense.
In this game, I feel pulled between just generating jobs with the nifty jobs-making tables (much like in Coriolis), or building PC-relevant jobs out of the relationships they have with the factions and what has already come to pass. The first method feels kind of shallow and dumb and episodic, and it’s probably something to keep in my back pocket for when I don’t have something better planned. The second method is resistant to improvisation.
I’m thinking about how to make the game more PC-relevant and improv-friendly. It almost certainly comes down to making a situation map of where they’ve found themselves five jobs into the campaign, and the half-dozen-or-so factions that are currently in their lives. Not terrible and I feel like that’s gonna produce fruit fast. At the very least it’ll visually remind me of the NPCs (friend and rival) each of them chose and none of whom I’ve pulled back into the game.
Jonathan Perrine had a really sharp insight about how Scum is different than Blades, which I’ve been thinking about all morning. In Blades, the faction rules and the whole setup is much more confrontational: other gangs want to fuck you up right now, and you’re under direct threat because your turf is immobile. In Scum you’re on a ship and you can move around four systems and like a dozen worlds. The sandbox is bigger and sandier and, at least in my own head, it feels harder to make the factions directly relevant to the crew because the factions have clocks already running that have nothing to do with the crew. It’s fine, just an interesting observation.
Anyway, we’re definitely in for more sessions. Just need to carve out prep time and use it wisely.