After last week’s existential freefall, I think it’s high time I get back to talking about games.

Holidays suck for planning games, amirite? We’ve got all kinds of upheaval happening, so I’m putting Mutant: Genlab Alpha on hold (maybe indefinitely, the mission-driven game is bumming everyone out and they feel like it’s getting kind of…procedural). My next multiple-session game will be The Clay That Woke (finally!), but in the meantime I’m taking a swing at several one-to-three-shot games.

First one will be Undying, the diceless PbtA game about vampires. It is super interesting, and I’m realizing new (yes obvious, don’t blame me, I’m old) stuff on my current readthrough.

Maybe the most interesting bit (get it? BIT) that jumped out at me like 2 minutes ago is that all the NPCs play out of playbooks exactly like PCs. I feel my eyebrows going up a little at this, because my PbtA instincts say “eh just wing it, be true to the fiction, yadda yadda.” And while it’s literally true that I won’t be rolling dice — because everyone bids blood rather than rolling dice — the fact that I’m on equal play footing with my players in a PbtA game is kind of thrilling. Or maybe awful. Dunno. I never really dug having hit points and other game-state-tracking shit in Dungeon World either.

I’m intrigued by the high-acrimony vibe of the game. My players promise me they’re good-2-go on this, and I think this is an expression of their urge to get back to character-driven play. I like the easy session structure of mission games (The Sprawl, Blades in the Dark and Genlab Alpha most recently) but it’s really hard — for me — to maintain both a good dose of character play and keep the pace of the mission up. It looks like the acrimony thing is already addressed in the GM Principles of the game, which include “provide external pressures.” So you’re not stabbing each other in the face all day every day.

Because the GM is working with the playbooks, that’s a lot of printing, right? I think I’ve got like 4 complete sets of the five playbooks. The paperwork load feels crazy compared to my normal PbtA setup, which is usually a relationship map and a GM moves sheet. On that note, Undying formalizes the use of a relationship map, it’s part of the rules. Yay! As you add vampire NPCs to the map (and everyone is either a Rival, an Enemy, or a Nemesis — suck on that, VtM superfriends), they come preloaded with minor or major debts already aimed at other predators on the map. Since everyone, PC and NPC, is a predator, I assume the GM has a lot of leeway on that point.

Yeah…the more I look at this, the more I think the most radical idea in Undying isn’t the dicelessness, but the fact that the GM and players are all on the same footing. I wonder why this hasn’t been done sooner or more frequently? I know it’s a common complaint (of players and GMs) of the PbtA system that there’s so much hand-waving around the GM’s assets and options.

Anyone have direct experience playing this game? How about The Grind or The Plague Empire goodies?

0 thoughts on “Undying”

  1. I’m stoked about every part of this game, except having to keep track of so many characters. The relationship map tech stuff seems neat, but I bristle looking at it.

  2. We’re getting ready to start a run of this as well. Right now I’m feeling more challenged getting our setting (Detroit, starting in 1892) in my head than I am by the rules, but we’ll see how things go!

  3. To a certain extent, Undying’s relentless PvP engine makes it feel more like a Vampire LARP than a Vampire tabletop game, with the GM playing the ocean of other characters.

  4. Jason Corley How is playing that ocean? That nails what worries me. If there was, say a single playbook that said “Ocean of NPCs” with moves and whatnot, that I could get my head around.

  5. In my play, it wasn’t necessary to track everything for NPCs. Also note specifically that they have blood pools that are only used for conflicts that come up in play – you don’t bother with their hunting/night to night spend etc.

  6. Yeah, I need to read through things again before we play, but I was planning to just represent each NPC as a few details on an index card, with grudges, debts, blood, etc for each, but not worrying much about playbook moves.

  7. Steve Segedy I dunno about that. If you look at the actual GM moves, you’ll see there’s nothing really there when it comes to how NPCs operate — other than to make playbook and basic moves.

    It’s really quite different than standard PbtA. Don’t be fooled like I was! 🙂

  8. Paul Beakley, wait you have to make/pick playbooks for each NPC? Gah.

    EDIT: Oh, that’s what your original post says. SORRY. I came barging in here to gripe about Undying without fully comprehending what you wrote. Dick move on my part. Listening now.

  9. sure, as GM I’ll still be interacting using the Basic Moves like players (Fight, Meddle, etc.). And while the GM move “Use Your NPCs” suggests you might do playbook moves, I noted that the example R-map in the back doesn’t bother to indicate which playbook the (presumably) NPCs might be.

    How I read this is that player-facing moves in this game have all been made less mechanical and more fiction-oriented, like GM moves in most other PbtA games, so they work equally well for everybody.

  10. Oh interesting. I was looking at the Rome playset and they’re super-explicit about what playbooks everyone was. That was actually what sent me back to the GM Moves page.

    Dunno…I’m pretty stoked about a Nightmare performing a black sacrament at some point.

  11. Paul Beakley this is just my memory, so might be wrong, but I thought that NPCs can use playbook moves but are not necessarily restricted to those from one particular playbook.

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