Tag Archives: Moves

State of The System and Ropecon mini-games

So, where is New Horizons? It’s been some 7 months of silence from my part (mostly because of a death in the family that derailed things), so I’ll try to get back on the track with short tidbits now and then maybe continue writing actual long posts further down the road.

Tokens I'm using now.

Quick update on the campaigns first: I’ve been running continuous games for Alpha and Bravo teams, ~15 sessions for Alpha, ~20 for Bravo. Bravo is just moving into Season 2 of the campaign with a big showdown in the last session we had and with Alpha we had a first team split to explore the characters in a more contained setting.

The feedback I’m getting from the players in invaluable (helps to have 7 people in the groups whose field of work is in gaming), which means that the system is updated often and keeps going through iterations quite fast. Officially we’re playing using the 2.3 version now, and I can’t count how many iterations the 1.x versions went through, but “countless” comes quite close.

The 1.0 rules were a shot in the dark. Anything that could even remotely fit a Corporate Scifi Horror campaign was incorporated. Way more mechanics than one could ever need, but that was sort of good. It’s easier for me to cut down mechanics than add new ones, it would seem. 1.x has had Death Moves (from Star Wars World), two interwoven stats (one set for approaches to situations, the other for professional expertise. They were just confusing), sanity-esque corruption-like mechanic and even a core Move (“You did … what?!”, which is basically “Are you crazy?!” from The Regiment 1.0) that was completely out of the style of the games that I was running. It had everything and the kitchen sink. Playtesting with the main groups showed me what got actually used and what had problems, and slowly but surely I honed the smaller details (like what stat to use where, or the wording of some Move) and kept in mind the big things I wanted to change.

Then came 2.0, which was basically the first big revamp. Reduced the system to 5 base stats (change of the stat “move” to “push”, ditch the role stats), one core Move for each stat, put more mechanical consistence on the way Moves work (for example, all role Moves that ask questions give an advantage (+1 forward) to a relevant follow-up Move), temporarily ditch the sanity mechanics so they don’t distract from the game, make the system actually geared towards teamwork, formalize the way threats and gear work.. and most importantly start building a vocabulary for Powered by Apocalypse games that works more naturally in Finnish. If all games are essentially conversations that are moderated by rules, the rules need to speak the same language as the conversation for things to flow perfectly. While the 2.x rules give the campaign some structure, but most importantly, they are geared towards one-shots, like convention games. If 1.x was a general shot in the dark, 2.x took weird stabbing motions towards a campaign play structure and the character advancement there had everything imaginable in it.

And as of last week, I’m now working on the 3.0 version. It will not hit the campaigns in a long while as I realized that there are huge changes that I need to do to the very core of the system. The character roles (playbooks) have always felt schizophrenic and overlapping, and after making pregenerated characters for a couple of con games, combined with feedback on the sanity system from Alpha team, I figured out I may have to take a dual-playbook approach to the game after all. Role book and Depth book (name pending), where the later is the character’s approach when things get shadow biosphere-y and the first one deals with the mundane. Moves will go through a language and functionality check so that using a Move becomes natural in the conversation of the game (so most adjective+noun combos like “calculating bastard” turn into something more action-y like “accept the cost”) and the effects reaffirm the corporate scifi horror theme. There is a huge need to revamp the roles as well. Empath, Seer and Voice roles will be rewritten to more mundane counterparts, while the shadow biosphere stuff moves to new parallel playbooks. Stats will move around for all the roles but the Leader, and this will again have an effect on the moves. And other things. All in all, my mind is primed with ideas.

Full set of character cards for one character. Moves, tokens, the work.

The other thing I wanted to mention was the Ropecon games and what I learned from those.

First thing I learned is that New Horizons is meant to be played around a proper table. It’s a funny by-product of the card system, but to function “as intended”, the game needs structured seating where everyone sees each other and have their cards in front of them. I am not sure what to do with this information in regards to the actual campaigns I’m running (where the game situations are … relaxed), but it might be so that I move the games to the kitchen from now on. There is some relevance in having the Leader at the end of the table, facing the GM as equal (this was impossible actually at Ropecon because of the noise) and everyone around the table seeing the cards and the tokens.

I ran two atypical scenarios at Ropecon, and playtested both before the con. The fact they were something else, allow me to look back and say things like “well yes, if this had been a normal +H game, there should have been some sort of an intel-gathering phase there at the beginning.” Which leads to me thinking that there needs to be a mission setup Move. 10+, you know two facts about the mission choose both (insert list). 7-9, as 10+, but you choose one, GM chooses one. 6-, as 7-9, but GM gets an extra Move for a Threat. Or something like that. In one, I used the gear system to the maximum potential, in the other, the Threats (I’ll have to talk about those in full detail later. They’re pretty much like Tremulus’ GM hold, but more nuanced).

It’s nice to see where the game is going and even if the players weren’t there to provide feedback for my game design, but to enjoy a game, it was interesting to see how they interacted with the system.

I will run the scenarios I did for Ropecon probably once more so I won’t put the details here to spoil potential players.

States of Play, 2013

And 2013 is over. It’s been a good while since I’ve written an article into the blog. And while this is sad, I have been busy with the game and things related to it instead of public writing, so I can’t really say I’m feeling sorry about the lack of updates. But here’s where we are now:

States of Play, 2013 in review

And back to the basics

I have to say I’m ashamed that when I started the run of New Horizons, I had forgotten how to run a normal role-playing game campaign. My previous long campaign was a set of procedural related one-shots for three years, and then a few random mini-campaigns. They all were based on the idea that I had to be able to respond to the wacky ideas the players came up with on the fly, so there couldn’t be that many pre-planned things.

I tried starting a campaign a few months before New Horizons and failed for the same reason New Horizons has been hard. I didn’t do the long road of planning about everything that normally goes into scenario design. Building a longer, more stable campaign means that I need to focus. Prepare. Think. Ponder. Write characters with short term motivations and goals as well as the long term. Print out maps, think of encounters, make challenges.

The system I use in New Horizons has a lot of pressure on the GM to be able to tell not only what, but why the non-player characters are doing the things they are doing. The investigation rules revolve around me to be able to provide the player characters with meaningful information when they ask for it instead of random clues.

In many ways, +H is more simulationistic system than anything I’ve used in a very long time. And now that I’m finally getting that, I have started to put the effort into the “right spots”. The game I ran the other day to Bravo Team was the first one where I felt fully comfortable with the rules, so at least something was accomplished by the end of 2013.

And speaking of rules…

Now that I’ve run about a dozen sessions of the campaign, I have had an epiphany about how the system is built. The huge emphasis on Role Moves over Basic Moves has a profound effect on not only what rules get used in the campaign, but where are the points of interest in the fiction.

The only two times where the GM makes their Move are when things aren’t progressing, or when a character fails their Move. That means that the trigger points of the Moves become the possible turning points for the fiction. Take the Move that triggers when you are in an intimate situation with someone, and every intimate situation you end up will become a possible point of something dramatic. The ebb and flow of the game ends up being determined by which Moves the players choose for their characters, putting a lot of responsibility for the story in their hands.

Also, a counter-intuitive thing with the system is that having a Role Move doesn’t necessarily make your character more powerful or capable. Someone who doesn’t have the Move “Get the Hell out of Dodge”, can still make a daring escape through the window, probably just as well as someone with it. Just that the rules for handling that situation are different from someone who has that Move and the effects of success and partial success are very different. The drama is forced to bend to a different direction.

There is a lesson or a thought in there about characters in the team taking identical or different Moves, but I’ll leave you ponder on that or maybe return to it in some other post.

Design like it’s 1999

The Moves cards (not an actual photo, just a mock-up)

Being a freelancer and having way too much spare time, I’ve been doing the visual things for New Horizons with the “this will look nice on my portfolio” level of attention and love. Much to the annoyance of my players, this means a lot of graphic design everywhere, even in the situations where they would be happy with just a scrap paper with some letters on it. As well as an endless stream of revision on things that “Already look quite fine just the way they are!”

But for me it’s been great. I’m already looking at the earlier documents I did for the first game sessions and redoing them in a way that fits the “new and improved” line of design. And I’ve done tons. Character sheets, web pages, documents, even a few mock up trailer videos for the game. And for my Christmas present, I put some money in to getting the Moves Cards printed in color and proper cardstock via TGC. Will see how they turn out somewhere mid-January.

Where we are now, at end of 2013

Few words about the actual campaigns. Both teams have now completed their Tutorial missions and their first actual missions and are somewhere in the November-December area of 2013.

Without going into specifics, I have reached the point in the campaign where the words “Shadow Biosphere” have been said to both teams and they have had the opportunity to speak with the scientists of New Horizons who actually study these things. Both groups have ran into people who have opposing goals to the company’s. And both teams have had an opportunity to travel the world. So all of the basic things about the game have been covered.

Alpha Team is currently heading to R/V Polstjärnan that has been lost for half a year, and Bravo Team is yet to make a choice about where they’re going to head to next. Possibly Heartland, Maine. Possibly Oslo. Maybe Geneva or southern France. I’ll see once they reply to my love letters.

Resolutions for a new year

And looking forward.

I promise to continue with the blog come 2014. It’s been on hiatus, but I’ve had the opportunity to recharge my batteries and get things rolling again, so there is no reason to keep this place silent.

I will continue to tinker with the system and release some form of a playable draft to the internet (in Finnish) during 2014.

I will put effort to preparing the game sessions. I am seeing how much preparation I need to put to get the ball rolling right, and I will do my best to get at least that much work done.

And I’d like to make a challenge to my +H players, and pretty much all the players in all the games out there. I challenge you to be even better wingmen in 2014. Making other players (not just their characters) look awesome is a skill that will keep on rewarding you for the rest of your gaming career. Elevate them and they’ll repay you in kind.

And remember that it’s only a game, the main point of all of this is just to have fun!

Happy 2014!

Here, as a treat, one of those trailers I’ve made for our games. It’s spliced together from movies, games and tv-shows.

Things to Fiddle With: Electronic Love Letters

I’ve ran some LARP campaigns in my days, and that has left me with a severe allergy to players who have ideas on what their characters could be doing between the game sessions. I try to keep my free time as “game-free” as possible, but I do acknowledge that I need to keep the players invested in the games during downtime. In New Horizons, I have discovered a nifty tool – Google Drive’s forms. I’m using them to write “electronic love letters” to my players between games.

Love Letter in action

What’s a Love Letter?

The term “Love Letter” is Apocalypse World slang. I can’t find its origin, but one ur-example is Hatchet City with its set-up. The typical AW Love Letter is a short description of a situation that has happened before the current session, followed by a related Move.

“Dear Shadow,

You followed the clues gathered so far to the Elysium and there one Ravnos bastard called Spirit Boy was indeed selling your sire’s heart. Roll+Generation:

10+: choose 3

7-9: choose 2

6-: the Storyteller chooses one

  • You manage to get your sire’s heart back.
  • You don’t fly into Frenzy and slaughter the Ravnos emissary.
  • You aren’t left owing a Major Boon to the Nosferatu Primogen for covering your ass.

Also, while there, you discovered that Damien isn’t actually a Caitiff, but belongs to one of the Seven Clans. Which one?

Love,

your Storyteller.”

This structure gives a great bang to the start of a session. You’re right there now. Shadow’s coming out of his Frenzy, being soothed by the ancient Nosferatu who has managed to keep the situation from getting out of hand. And now.. what do you do?

And How I’m Bastardizing Them?

After the first session of the Alpha Team game, I wrote actual Love Letters. Not good ones, but that’s because they were wrong to the +H context. I don’t really want to start the sessions with a racket. It’s a slow, creeping team horror game with calm normal people. But I wanted to keep asking the important and difficult questions that Love Letters give the opportunity to.

Now, I have been using a post-game questionnaire (on Google Forms) to ask things from the players.

It has some voluntary recap questions. Something like “with a couple of sentences, describe what happened at the airport?” They remind the player of what happened, and I can spotlight things like the presence of a shadowy enemy or a certain NPC with them. Even if a player doesn’t answer it, they still return to the game for a moment.

The important, mandatory questions have to do with the direction of the group. Multiple choice questions like “From these three cities, where would you like to go to next?” The answers allow me to take the game where the players want me to take it (from the choices I’ve provided to them, of course)

And of course, open feedback. Feedback’s is important, especially in a game with lots of new elements. Criticism, rules suggestions and happy thoughts are all appreciated.

But none of these sound like the Love Letters I mentioned earlier. No hard choices anywhere.

The Love Lettery Stuff

In situations where a player character starts a session in a pinch or if a player misses a game, I’ve used the form to ask more personalized questions. They’re related to what’s at hand and set up how the next game begins.

The meeting was boring as you imagined, but at least you got some juicy gossip there. Now as you’re returning to the team, you know the following… (choose two)

  • The Valkyria guards are out for blood (if you don’t choose this, you know instead that the Valkyria people really just want to talk)
  • There is a hacker at the event who is planning to expose your company as the evil you are (if you don’t choose this, you know the hacker is there, but targetting your competition)
  • The main researcher is a former +H employee and is holding a grudge against you (if you don’t choose this, you know New Horizons has actually headhunted her and she’ll be joining you in a few months)
  • The Valkyria know that all of you were at the site of the accident (if you don’t choose this, you know that they only know of the two people they saw at the site)

That’s a fairly good example of a personalized question. It steals from the basic idea of a Love Letter in that it gives the player a running start. Their character has arrived late because of the meeting, but bring important intel.

There is no randomization, and in fact, the method of choosing comes from Durance (that’s currently on sale via The Bundle of Holding) where you get to choose something good, but have to give up other good things and end up with the opposite of them instead. The character returns with accurate intel, but only half of it is good news. The hard choices are always very hard indeed.

Choose Your Own Adventure…?

This is something that I’m just starting to explore. The possibilities with electronic forms that redirect themselves with your answers are much greater than what you can do with a simple paper that contains some text and a Move.

When we last saw you, you were in the shower. Suddenly something is wrong, and you feel like… (choose one)

  • … the walls are caving in on you.
  • … there is someone else in the room with you.
  • … the room temperature has dropped by several degrees.

And if they choose the walls caving in, we can give them a follow-up question about running in a hallway, instead of one about finding themselves in a room with a ghost, or an axe-murderer. Or an axe-murdering ghost.

It requires more work, but it is actually possible to build questions that are a lot more complex and base themselves on things that the player chooses.