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.