We decided to shut down our campaign of Space Wurm vs Moonicorn last night.
It had been 3 weeks since we played last, and before that we’d gone through another 3-week break. The breaks, combined with the demands of adult life, meant the stoke had escaped. I rely on their stoke more than they rely on mine, I think. I was ready and prepped — see the new and revised situation map (my new term! R-maps are yesterday’s tech, S-maps or smaps are tomorrow’s!) — but before we started, I talked with each player about how into the game they were feeling. Every one of them had some variation on “I could take it or leave it.”
I confess I was a little heartbroken, but I’m a service-minded GM and I can’t see asking a roomful of adults to participate in something they could take or leave, whatever, coin toss.
Honestly I probably could have gotten them engaged again. And then next week’s July 4 long weekend, we’d take another break, and then try to get it up and running again. Too much, too much, too much. Which is probably the theme of the game itself: it’s Too Much … unless you can recruit committed players who are ready to work hard and keep a lot of really weird shit in their head.
I’ll share my final takeaways about Space Wurm vs Moonicorn now, in stream of consciousness bullet form for your confusing bathroom reading:
* I’d totally run this again right now, new setup, and I’ll happily bring and run the one-shot to any convention. It pushes a lot of my aesthetic buttons just right and the tornado of grabby bits the game creates is maybe unique in my experience. I also have a huge, deep, abiding love for serious space opera — think Dune, not Flash Gordon — and that can carry me lots of places.
I was asked at NewMexicon why Space Wurm vs Moonicorn succeeds and I had too many small answers. My big answer is that it’s a tornado of grabby bits wrapped in irresistible colors.
* I have a new and serious respect for Dungeon World. I don’t really enjoy D&D style play, but I understand it. DW is a very happy midway point for my traditionally minded players to meet me way over in indieland.
The common move structure, other than the utter lack of support of PvP social tension, is an excellent match for SWvM. It gave me the affordances to easily nudge the game back into action/travel/discovery territory. It could have so easily wallowed in, well…PvP social tension. As much as I wish there were something procedural in place to introduce uncertainty when The Lover and Space Wurm (frex) have a dynamic, passionate quarrel, that absence meant that the game would quickly return to the creative space sketched out by the DW common moves.
I was wrong about Dungeon World. Now I’m thinking it’d be a gas to get in on one of the Chaos World settings at some point.
* Only one friction point between me and SWvM, and that’s the competitive superstructure of the game. Lots of parts to this bullet.
The non-star players agreed that their characters were largely reactive to whatever Space Wurm or Moonicorn were up to. This is by design, since the whole game is paced to the stars’ struggles. Like, the Lover could pursue her own agenda: in our game she’d been granted power over the Transport Guild. Bandwidth-wise there was just not enough air at the table for her to set up and execute the Ceremony to change the guild from clan control to a free market model. Some of that is having to learn how to apply the Ceremony rule well — it’s basically a faction-level version of Apocalypse World’s Workshop rules. And the Other playbook is, I think by design, designed more to wander wide-eyed and chaotic through the world rather than pursuing any internal needs. The lack of internal motivation wasn’t a showstopper, but it kept those players from fully investing.
Then there’s the Victory in Battle move, which is necessarily abstract and detached from the fiction. It’s a notable exception to the PbtA orthodoxy of fiction-first move triggers. Yes, literally the fiction of having defeated a Front’s Danger has to have occurred to trigger the move. But it’s not a discrete player moment; it’s not driven by a player decision. Rather, the GM has to decide if the danger has been defeated. Usually it’s pretty apparent in the fiction when that’s happened but I constantly felt insecure about when and how to make the call. In fact at one point it seemed like Space Wurm might have defeated a danger, but my brain warred between the “was that really the danger?” and “is it too soon?” impulses, and I withdrew my nod.
Victory in Battle also generates a necessarily abstract result: Space Wurm takes over the Front, and Moonicorn is free from the Front’s hunters. So there’s a lot of hand-waving between 1) defeating the space god’s avatar haunting the world lost inside the hypervoid, 2) pulling the world into normal space, thereby curing the Space Madness, and 3) ta-da, Space Wurm is now in charge of all interstellar travel! I’ve been well-trained by other highly abstract pacing games like Burning Empires so I’m okay with disconnects like this. It’s no big deal. It’s like the break between seasons of a TV show. Time passes, here’s a new situation. I think my play-the-day habits of old are in there pretty deep, though.
* The staggering array of questions Metzger throws at you for every Front and Danger can feel overwhelming, and it’s on you to put your foot down when you think you have enough material. On the other hand, you might not know if you really have enough! I forgot to pursue some of the drill-downs on one of our Fronts, and it showed like 3 turns in. You can see the blanks on my revised smap (start practicing now, folks, you’ll be hearing smap at next year’s con panels) where we hadn’t really drilled very deep, then time passed, and then they were on to focusing on a different front.
Now that I’ve run a mostly complete game, I think I would spread the attention around the Fronts more and work on integrating the materials more firmly across all the Fronts. The Religion and Interstellar Travel Fronts/Dangers were very well connected, and it was great! And the Spice stuff was definitely present — there was an important weird-psychedelic-drugs subtext to the game — but I could do better. It was the kind of thing that wouldn’t be apparent unless you’d run a Fronts-heavy game of Dungeon World I think. I don’t really use ’em formally in other PbtA games but Fronts are formally required in SWvM.
Don’t know that I have a lot more to add here. Very, very fun game, I have a new appreciation for a different game I thought I didn’t like, and I’m sad/disappointed that Space Wurm vs Moonicorn demanded more from its players than we could provide.