Undying: Sudden Tragic (Prep) Realizations

Okay, so I’m ramping up to run a one-shot of Undying next Tuesday, right? And now I’m into my first serious deep-dive into the rules text. Details are now revealing themselves to me.

* Prep. Actual prep, what the fuck? This game is way, way more pre-play prep intensive than any PbtA I’ve ever seen. Before you even pick characters, you need to come up with a time setting (these are excellent) and…you need to doodle up a relationship map that’s already in place for your new predator PCs to plug into. The rules for doing so are pretty elaborate.

I hate this. I. Hate. This.

I shouldn’t hate it but it runs so contrary to how I use relationship maps. I really prefer to dynamically create the map/situation at the table, in partnership with the players. I prefer the characters be the center of attention, the irritant around which the pearl of the game’s situation accretes. Undying offers none of that.

That said, plugging into an existing r-map makes thematic sense. It gives you the feeling that you’ve just been created and a lot of new shit has just come to light. I’m not opposed to the r-map rules on thematic grounds. This is on me, for misunderstanding the nature of the game. It’s bildungsroman in a way I wasn’t expecting, and that other PbtA games don’t really do. You don’t start out as intrinsically important.

* No advancement. Again, totally thematically reasonable. Once you’ve changed, you’re gonna be you forever and ever. In terms of play juice, that takes away an entire incentive category. On the upside, it makes characters really simple! I like that. And I totally misread how involved the different playbooks might be (so yeah, Steve Segedy you were totally right about being able to track everyone on index cards).

I think the game is going to require the players bring their own motives and a desire to fulfill or celebrate vampire tropes: the acquisition of power as its own reward, fucking with each other as necessary for that acquisition of power. I mean you do kinda sorta get some small benefits in terms of improving your hunting grounds, but I don’t have a firm grasp of how meaningful the hunting grounds stats are. Since there’s no random inputs in the game, it seems like you are basically bidding your blood to keep your hunting quiet and, one assumes, achieving a net positive (spend 2 blood to keep your hunt quiet and unseen, earn 3 by choosing to not kill your victim, net 1 whole blood whoo).

I like advancement. I hope the baked-in genre drive to claw one’s way to the top of the food chain is enough to maintain interest, at least for one session.

* The demo one-shot in the book doesn’t feel like it supports anything about all the predator/power themes laid out throughout the rules. But I think that’s a limit of my own imagination.

Basically, each round of “nightly play” (as opposed to “downtime play,” which is end-of-session stuff that crosses years or decades) is thematically tied to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, with details about what the crisis situation in the vampire world is. Maybe plague is killing the mortal herds, maybe a Patrician is angling for a vampire civil war to overthrow the Princeps.

The one-shot sample is an interesting setting: 1889 Seattle, when a huge fire consumes a chunk of the city. Then there are some prompts to get the ball rolling. I guess the one that jumped out at me and evoked a huge meeeehhhhhh was the one that involves a murder mystery. Very VtM I guess? Another one is a rescue mission. Man I dunno.

So…I’m feeling kind of cooled off on Undying but I really hope this is just me in a crummy mood and that it’ll all work out fine on Tuesday. Might also be that the downer vibe of the book is slamming hard into the psychedelia of reading Space Wurm vs Moonicorn concurrently.

0 thoughts on “Undying: Sudden Tragic (Prep) Realizations”

  1. Jason Morningstar has put together one or two SotI r-maps for one-shot purposes, and they’re great situations but I’ve never really felt the urge to try them. I end up with puh-lenty of material from the initial round of questions.

  2. I’m trying to remember: doesn’t status come with some mechanical perks? Like when breaking ties, the highest-status Kindred vampire predator wins, and you determine that by their social status, debts owed, and who made whom? So social advancement comes with some crunch, no?

  3. We played last night, and it was a bit of a mistake- we had a guest player (the notorious Kristin Firth) and I should have tabled Undying for the night before we spent a long time doing character creation and set up, and then fumbled through learning the rules. Fine for longer term play, but not as much fun for her one night with us.

    That said, we’ll be playing again and I’m reading through the rules again to do better. For your one shot, I would definitely recommend using the aggressive bang setup suggested in the book. Having everything consumed with fire, putting everything in chaos, is better than the slow, talky-talk murder mystery angle that I tried.

    It’s worth noting that, this being diceless, the fiction is even more important than usual. Predators will have no trouble hunting and feeding, mechanically, so if you’re not narrating the process there’s not much meat to it.

    In any case, I think you can do the R-map set up during play, but you’ll want to have an idea of who your NPCs are and what the likely hunting grounds are like ahead of time. You can work out the connections with the players.

  4. Adam D the only tiebreaker I see is The Devil’s move, cold blooded.

    “Pecking Order” defaults to rank and is broken within ranks by stuff like who owes/made whom. That’s relevant in the Bargain move, because if you’re higher up you can make someone a Pariah. Which, tbh, feels like a fictional positioning benefit. Probably having that threat available is long-term useful to whatever agenda you’re pursuing.

    Oh oh, the Plot and Scheme move during downtime as well. That’s more mechanical but relies on there being a downtime phase at all. Not really a one-shot thing, and that’s okay.

  5. Maybe think of the prep like “barfing forth apocalyptica” – you want to do a little work to have a good sense in your head about the setting, the possible players, and the limited resources (hunting grounds, debts) that they all care about, so you can throw it out in the moment.

  6. Steve Segedy yeah, the city/hunting grounds element is intimidating to me. That’s the bulk of the prep I’m dreading digging into, and it feels different than similar setting prep that Urban Shadows requires. I think you need a really firm grasp of your setting to be able to come up with districts or neighborhoods or whatever. I could do that with my hometown, no big deal, but hunting grounds are so multifaceted!

    Might actually be easier to cook up an entirely fictional location. Or go deep history and also just make stuff up.

  7. I’ve never played, but reading the text I had many of the same thoughts you had, Paul Beakley​. The Gauntlet UK guys have played a few sessions and seemed to like it very much – did you post about your experience somewhere, Eadwin Tomlinson​ or YG Mitchell​?

  8. The r-map prep at the start is relatively quick and helps you formulate a backdrop of grudges and favours the players fall into. There are issues with the game though. Downtime play is a bit of a strange experience as the GM sits there shuffling stuff behind the scenes some of which make no odds. Hunting grounds are supposed to be central to much of the infighting and most players don’t care about that at all. The events triggering nightly play are very mortal in nature that again should largely be inconsequential to a predator. Trying to find a driver for each individual on each nightly session with a diceless mechanic is tough but strangely it’s still enjoyable. I have put off running it again for some time which is very telling though.

  9. The implications for poorer hunting grounds are not felt acutely enough to matter. In a night some of the players may feed and it might take them a bit of time or they might get in a spot of bother with some mortals meaning some blood pool burn *shrug. Worst case is a predator gets caught feeding on another predators turf and most would avoid this or actively seek that trouble out anyway.

  10. Something I’ve been considering- one of our group’s cinematic touchstones is Only Lovers Left Alive, and one thing I liked about that story is how the vampires found something personal that they cared about (music, books, Christopher Marlowe).

    I think adding some intentional touches like that to character development would give more plot-drivers. “The city is on fire and the mortals are dying? Hm, I can always feed in the next town, but I need to get home and save the Stradivarius!”

  11. Something I really enjoyed, when it clicked, was that the simplicity of the playbooks pushed us players towards using the r-map as the main route to interaction and antagonism, rather than our archetypes or special moves.

    So every interaction was anchored in suspicion and betrayal because Status was what drove our character depictions

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