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?