GMing While Stoned
Last night was our 7th session, and the beginning of our next big “arc” of SWvM. It was also the first time I ran a game while feeling pretty weird/off/spacey on a new medication I’m taking. I was for-real concerned that I wouldn’t be able to bring my “A” game to the table! But apparently I did okay. For a game that’s as psychedelic as this, it turns out I really need to be stone cold sober to pull it together.
We’re now settled into 3-ish hour sessions and it feels just right in terms of solid play time. It’d translate into a 4-hour con block if we had to go through all the setup stuff in the beginning, and it really does feel like we mostly hit all the notes I’d want to hit.
Almost everyone is level 4 or 5 now, and the flat 7XP/level thing is working just fine. I think…three of the players have chosen advances that themselves grant additional XP to one another, so there’s been a very slight uptick, I think, in advancement speed. That’s also combined with my new DW-style approach to running the game, which is to say I’m sending players to the dice all the damned time. It feels good! Players love rolling dice. The vibe is notably different than the “let’s just talk until you run into a move” style of, say, Sagas of the Icelanders.
I’m super-enjoying how the game feels with so many additional moves in play. They’re exciting moves! Even rather (IMO!) dull ones like The Other’s +2 bump to her armor. That character used to be this super-weird wander-through-the-scene type of almost comic relief, but now she’s fairly beefy. Armor 2 and 19 hit points makes for a pretty sturdy defender.
One thing I know I’m being lax on is requiring camping/down time for leveling up. I figure it’s pretty easy to assume that in SWvM, where scenes are fairly chunky and there are big narrative jumps between them. If we were playing out our days — which I assume straight Dungeon World is built toward, what with ration requirements and whatnot — I’d hold them to that tighter. No big. It’s about the same as ignoring coins.
This new arc started with me introducing not one but two dangers from the Religion front. I’d telegraphed and hinted at the dangers for several sessions, so it wasn’t a huge surprise for them to come up for air after defeating the Space Void Madness danger and taking the Interstellar Travel front off the board. Now they’re facing a wide-ranging Faith War (there are two major opposed doctrines, and one minority-but-important faith that’s still tied closely with the travel guild), as well as the first rumblings of a God War. I was a little skeered about the God War, because it’s one of the dangers I’m not totally sure how they’re gonna defeat! But I’m trusting we’ll fumble our way toward resolution, just like we did with Space Void Madness. I have no idea what it’ll look like for, say, Space Wurm to assert control over, say, The All-Seeing Eye. It probably looks like co-opting that god’s worshiper base. I’ve introduced four gods, all of whom I’ve hinted at in the past (even if the players don’t recognize those hints yet).
Some exciting new developments:
* We saw the first and very heavy use of Space Wurm’s Ceremony skill, used both by SW and by the Lover, to whom SW has granted total control over the Transport Guild. We were a little wary of just how to play out the ceremony, but I’m getting the syntax of the move now: the GM comes up with requirements and that is what the Ceremony comprises. The first Ceremony was by the Lover, who wants to convert the travel guild into a more free market/deregulated body (it’s currently a tight, clannish hive-mind of the ships themselves) and I gave her a really hard Ceremony. Then, to compensate, when Space Wurm wanted to disrupt the asshole terrorists who regularly bomb the travel guild’s ships and facilities, I gave him a relatively easy Ceremony. It’ll take some time to dial in the just-right level the move needs.
* Another big Space Wurm upgrade is the Fifth Column move, which lets him infiltrate groups and then use Ceremony on them as if he controlled them. Give the player a whole shitload of powerful input into the game. Now he feels quite a bit more like a co-GM, although it is still fun to push back via the Ceremony requirements.
* Space Wurm took a move called The Bait, which basically gives him a psychic insight into what any character — PCs included — wants from him. Then he offers it, and if they take it they get 1XP. Interesting! It’s a new flavor of leverage, but it interacts in kind of a weird way, mostly non-mechanical, because you can’t use Parley on PCs. Still, it seemed to do the job. The player is still feeling out how best to use that move.
* Moonicorn has a few nice moves now, too: Aura of Innocence lets him just shut down attacks once he’s been injured (which costs Integrity, which juices his need to chase Integrity, yay!). Disarm lets him use CHA instead of STR in Hack and Slash and then lets him merely disarm his opponent in a fight. A Good Person lets him bribe people to do things with XP. And I think he just took Change of Heart which, holy shit, turns NPCs into rebels via a 12+ result on Parley.
* Now that we’re used to the constant presence of the Full of Grace meta-move, it’s not so onerous to fold that in whenever Moonicorn stands up to anyone at any time. Which is pretty much all the time. The choices you get when you’re Full of Grace feel shallow, unfortunately, and the additional effect(s) you buy when you roll while you’re Full of Grace aren’t that interesting. But it’s fine. Mostly interesting color. We haven’t had any surprise moments where, say, Moonicorn thinks he’s gonna be immune to an environmental danger, fucks up his roll, and oh surprise!, you’re not immune to the vacuum of space after all. It’ll happen, it just hasn’t yet.
* We’re fairly accustomed to the Lover’s overlay of effects and choices via her moves as well, but I did that by making “You Are Loved” props that list everything and giving it to her two loves. If I had a warning to others thinking about running SWvM, it’s that a lot of the moves aren’t really moves in the traditional sense, rather modifications to other moves and game-states. Make props for everything, it’s a great way to keep track of how it all works.
* I’m having a tough time getting the Other integrated into the events of the game, and that’s a combination of the player (who I’m sure was attracted to the Other because it’s so standoffish/special snowflake-y) and the rules themselves. She’s Chaotic, so her XP trigger is “get involved in a situation you don’t understand.” Which is pretty much all the fucking time because, wow, the whole setting is batshit insane. She’s choosing mostly defensive/turtle-y advances, and they’re fine but I know she’d be picking more active get-involved moves if she as a player felt like she wanted to get involved. It’s not a showstopper. Just an observation.
* I very nearly, I think due to my medicated state, had Space Wurm roll his “when you defeat a danger” move because of his Ceremony to disrupt a terror cell. In fact he did roll it, but I thought about it for a while while folks talked about their level-ups and later decided to rescind the offer. Happily he was okay with it, and agreed that it didn’t feel as resolved as the last time they made the roll.
* Once again I’m faced with the characters split up: Moonicorn is back on his ruined homeworld, which has been returned from the Void Between the Worlds into normal space and is now a refugee crisis. Meanwhile, Space Wurm, his Lover, and the Other (who now hangs out with the Lover because why not? And she has the Other’s heart crystal because it’s the blingiest bling in the galaxy) are all back at the capital planet getting into shenanigans with each other. Happily, the Lover’s player has cooked up a reason/scheme to get everyone together again next session.
* I introduced Earth! It’s tens of thousands of years out of contact with the rest of the galaxy, embargoed by the Space Gods themselves for their…sins. It’s the target of their next big adventure and I’m super stoked to go there. I’ve had the most fun with everyone in the same location and away from Space Wurm’s center of power.
* I think it was a good call to leave the Religion front’s dangers unaddressed for now. I’d telegraphed all the important bits but it was nice to pace those out when I wanted to, rather than having to cram it all into the game at once. I’m sure this is SOP for vanilla Dungeon World but the Fronts are much more mechanized than I’m accustomed to. I kind of ignore the concept when I’m running other PbtAs, maybe going through the exercise once just to get my thinking in order. This experience might make me a Fronts fan!
And now here are some friendly void dolphins, which chase around the voidcraft as they travel between worlds.