Undying Beta Release!

Undying

*Update 6/24/13See Undying 3.1

This is the beta release of Undying, a vampire role playing game of predation and intrigue. Undying is now very focused and concise, tightly integrating a core diceless mechanic while very much keeping to its Apocalypse World roots. The game’s two economies, blood and debt fuel the core struggle with scarcity and leverage.

Status is the prize. There’s no XP in Undying or mechanical advancement for characters. Instead, the advancement occurs in the fiction, supported by the status trait. You set your character’s sights on a goal and overcoming the obstacles – getting there – that’s the reward. Status is the system representation of your achievement and gives it mechanical teeth.

Humanity – a vampire would just be a superhero with fangs and a cape if not for humanity. A character’s humanity trait shapes how the character makes moves related to people and is, in turn, a reflection of how they’ve handled people: feeding, callousness, murder, and so on. Each time play wraps up, the other players vote to decide what your character’s humanity trait will be next time based on their past actions. The feedback loop of the changed humanity trait directly influences future move choices, nudging the character ever toward becoming a lost soul – the point where they are a truly irredeemable monster.

Follow Undying on google+, Story Games, and the AW forum!

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Regiment 2.1 Released!

The next cut of the Regiment is up on John’s blog!

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[Undying] Downward Spiral Concept Art!

When I woke up this morning, probably one of the last few sunny days in Seattle, I sat down with my coffee and started to sketch. Just something quick and light-hearted, maybe go for a walk. That’s what I told myself as I rummaged through my stash of pencils and pens. Then it hit me: I know what the Downward Spiral looks like! There went most of the day.

As you travel down the Downward Spiral, you shade in one or more of the nightshade petals. Each flower has five petals. Each skull represents a Humanity/Will score. When you’ve shaded in all the petals above the skull, that’s your new Humanity/Will score.

Change from Undying Alpha 2.1: Greater Evils now advances your Downward Spiral by 5 (previously, it was 3), since Nightshade has five petals. This way, you have the same number of Greater Evils to Lost Soul as in 2.1.

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Undying Released!

Undying, my hack of Vampire the Masquerade and Apocalypse World. It’s a project two years in the making, and counting.

What is this Game?

This game is an exploration of vampirism through the Apocalypse World medium (modified extensively). It’s about the struggle of vampire vs. self – a vampire’s two halves: the human and the beast – and vampire vs. vampire society – the fickle workings of status.
This is not a translation of d10 to d6. Undying is a re-thinking how a vampire game is structured to achieve its goals in play.

Who is this Game for?

This is an alpha play test, so if you are looking for a finished, polished game, this may not be for you, yet. I need people to play test this game and provide critical feedback, which I’ll use to improve the game. If that’s cool with you, you will probably also need a firm understanding of how Apocalypse World works – particularly the storytelling part. Also, you should be familiar with Vampire – but, that’s probably why you’re reading this. If you really want to know what this game is about, pull that hardback off your bookshelf, dust it off, and read the introduction – that’s what this game is all about.

Where can you find a Copy?

*Updated 6/24/13 — See Undying 3.1

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Regiment Alpha Play Test v2.0 Released!

The latest version of the Regiment is now available on John’s blog, here! Check it out.

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Survived GenCon!

GenCon was great; but, I’m glad to be home. I ran two games of the Regiment and two games of Undying. All four went really well. I got some really useful feedback on Undying and help spread the Regiment’s visibility a bit.

Games on Demand was crazy! I’m really happy it was such a hit; but, at the same time, it was so busy in there that I was a bit overwhelmed. I ran Undying there and I was all set to do the Regiment on Sunday afternoon; but, they were closing up shop when I got there. No harm done, it’s only fair that the folks who put so much into organizing it get to relax and wander through the expo hall.

For the Regiment, we did Red Dawn and Stalingrad. Both were awesome! I will have to explore that more fully. I’ve also been reading T. E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars, so I’m thinking WWI Arab revolt vs. Ottoman Empire could be pretty awesome.

For Undying, I ran both play tests in Port Royale during the apex of piracy. It was really cool to see how both groups reacted to the same situation differently. I got a lot of useful feedback on the design. Next step: revision.

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Undying Revamped!

Oh the puns! Don’t let Shannon see this…

It’s been awhile since I even thought about Undying, and much, much longer since I’ve actually done something with it. The entirety of my game design thought has been focused on one thing – the Regiment. While John was busy editing and laying out version 2 of the Regiment alpha, and I couldn’t screw with the game, I was hit with a new concept for Undying, my Vampire – AW hack. So I re-wrote the game.

I am far enough along to play test it; but, it’s not ready for sharing yet, sorry. I’m taking a couple of play test sets with me to GenCon along with the Regiment. Once I get some experience playing the game and some feedback from the players, I’ll revise it, add some thoughts on how to run it, and then I’ll post it here, for any of you who are interested.

About Undying

Vampire says how you’re supposed to play, and the thing it describes is super cool; but, you may find that the system doesn’t really point you toward those key things that your character is really supposed to be about – I mean beyond just the Vampire porn part – that’s a given. I’m talking about the struggle within of man vs. monster and the quest for  power. The folks I play Vampire with get how to play it, in our own fashion, and we have our own homebrewed mods to the rules to get what we want out of the game. Not everyone gets what they want out of the game. I had a (drunken) debate with Anna Krieder and Jared Sorensen on the subject at GenCon two years ago. I found myself ranting about that conversation at Dan Lofton over happy hour drinks at the Suites (see a pattern developing?) and that’s when he proposed the core mechanic of the game: Humanity and Will – one represents the man, one represents the monster, and the two of them are paired opposites – as one goes up, the other goes down. That was the genesis of Undying. I added Status as a stat to  capture the rise and fall of your standing among the Predator Community.

That’s it. That’s the game. You make moves and the mechanical consequences of those moves manipulate your stats. Blood and Debt (owed to other Predators) are the only economies. No XP. No buying moves. No weapons, gear, or fiddly bits. No harm, no health: just life, death, and pain. The whole game is about keeping the Beast in check while you try to claw your way up to the next rung of the social ladder.

Well, that’s not it, it. You have moves that encourage you do cool vampire shit and that’s the cause of and solution to all of unlife’s problems.

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[The Regiment AP] GenCon Hiatus

My gaming group and I are  on Summer holiday, so if you’re wondering why those Regiment APs you’ve been reading suddenly stopped, that’s why.

I will be at GenCon this year and I will be passing through Games on Demand from time to time. I’m hoping to leave some Regiment play kits on the table for those of you who are there and want to check it out. I’ll no doubt try to run a few games while I’m there.

Cheers!

-Paul

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[The Regiment AP] Rhys’ Descent into Madness

Rhys’ Breakdown – Fiction and Mechanics

John Harper asked on Google+

So, +Paul Riddle, question: Was Rhys’s breakdown a result of the revised push yourself move? Can you talk about how you handled that? Sounds like there was a stress cost.

When I followed up with John, he said he wanted to know about Rhys’ slide into a coldblooded killer and how the mechanics, the new move Push Yourself in particular, factored into play at guiding the fiction. Since this ties in with my other blog posts, I thought I’d write about it here.

Push Yourself

Here’s the text of the move at the time it was used in play:

When you push yourself through physical hardship, emotional trauma, or enemy fire, roll+guts. On a 10+, you keep calm and carry on. On a 7-9, you push through it; but, you take it slow, keep your head down, or cover your ass. Say how and why you avoid a direct confrontation with the problem at hand. GM says what it costs you: time, trouble, respect, etc.

A Toe in the Waters of Madness

The first step toward the slide happened when Rhys left the old woman and her husband in their flat to their fate while all of the other civilians were evacuated from the apartment building that would serve as 2nd Platoon’s jump off point. I didn’t ask Rhys to make a move and he didn’t ask to make one either. At this point, nothing was really at stake. Yes, the Germans might bring the fight here; but, there’s nothing concrete now – just the possible, future threat – and who’s to say that where everyone’s evacuating to is any safer? So that’s my view of the mechanics of the situation. To Rhys, it was a significant turning point; though, none of the rest of us at the table knew it yet. To see what Rhys’ player had to say, see Session 6 AP.

Ankle Deep…

The real jolt came when Rhys gunned down the (first group of) unarmed Germans when they rushed through the doorway in their assault across open ground. It started off as a Fight the Enemy move to win entry into the building. That was a hit. They dispatched the armed Germans no problem, so I threw the first of several moral compass challenges at the group – some unarmed Germans – what would Rhys do?

At this point, I wasn’t expecting murder; that came as a bit of a surprise. Not a shock, exactly; but, not wholly anticipated either. So I definitely demanded that Rhys Push Himself. This kind of thing was not something that we’d seen any indication of in Rhys’ character previously. Rhys made the roll and got the 7-9 result.

For the move’s 7-9 “penalty” (I’m using that in quotes because you AW’ers know what I mean – success with complications) – I chose to have Rickman and Walsh, his two subordinates who were in the room with him and saw what he did, lose respect for him. I reset their bond with him to -1 (generic NPC’s start at 0 by default). I told Rhys that Rickman and Walsh look absolutely stunned and then they spread out to secure the other ways in and out of their immediate area (the stairs and the other end of the hallway) without making eye contact or saying a word.

I asked Rhys how he felt about what he just did and how he felt about Rickman and Walsh’s reaction. Rhys told me that he felt deeply ashamed and that he couldn’t look either of them in the eye. He said he did it because he knew that even unarmed Germans, had they taken them prisoner, would have been a tremendous burden and risk. That question and Rhys’ answer established his mental state (this was an intended part of the move Push Yourself, that wasn’t well-written at the time; I think our recent revisions to the move have improved it significantly). OK, so Rhys is troubled and remorseful – take 1-stress. I threw the stress at him because, in the fiction, Rhys was torn inside. He exhibited the characteristics of the mechanical thing called “stress,” so as GM, I told him to mark the thing on his sheet that he just established in the fiction. I should have given him more stress; but, he was one shy of critical and I just wanted to push him to the line, not over it. In hindsight, that was the right call, for reasons that will become apparent shortly.

Neck Deep…

When rifle squad charges over to reinforce assault squad, L/Cpl. Johnson and Pvt. Thornburg arrive and report to Rhys for duty. Rickman and Walsh are elsewhere and Rhys wants to get away from them, so he takes his new rifle squad charges upstairs with him in search of the enemy. They follow without question, having no idea what Rhys just did and no expectation that he would do it again.

Rhys sneaks up on a German position on the second floor, taking the lead. He can hear them firing and he sneaks in on them, making a successful Maneuver move. He signals Johnson and Thornburg to hold back and then pushes the door open. Rhys opens fire on the armed Germans and then turns the rifle on the unarmed ones.

Again, I call for a Push Yourself, roll. He makes it with the 7-9 result. Mechanically, I choose the same 7-9 consequence, because Johnson and Thornburg are just as stunned and abhorrent as Rickman and Walsh were. A pattern is starting to emerge. I ask Rhys what the fuck is going on inside his head and Rhys’ player spills the beans: Rhys is having a mental breakdown. I tell him to mark 2-stress and Rhys goes critical. Session 6 AP discusses this in detail.

System vs. Fiction: Rhys’ player decided that he wanted Rhys to slide into madness. That wasn’t determined by the moves; but, the moves did reinforce Rhys’ choices along the way. I used Push Yourself to call bullshit on some clearly abnormal behavior that Rhys’ player decided he wanted Rhys to do. We acted on what the move told us to do and, because the move said Rhys did it, we moved forward with Rhys’ descent into madness. Once we established that Rhys was on a killing spree, there was no conflict to be resolved, so I handed Rhys’ player the reins and left him to gun down hapless Germans as though he were lighting a cigarette. Then afterwards, I gave him consequences.

In Way Over His Head…

After alienating Johnson and Thornburg, Rhys set out on his own in a totally mentally dethatched way. This was the player’s call in establishing his character’s mental state. So I reacted. Cool, you set off down the hallway, alone. That’s when I decided that the missing Sgt. Powell would make his reappearance in the story. Another moral dilemma: I wanted to see if Rhys even cared about his own people.

I tell Rhys that he hears Germans interrogating a prisoner and that, hearing the prisoner speak, Rhys recognizes him as Sgt. Powell, his missing squad leader. Rhys kicks down the door and encounters three German soldiers. Session 7 AP describes this.

At this point, I felt that Rhys was totally acting in character, as established, so I didn’t have him roll Push Yourself. Rhys was hell-bent on self-destruction, so when he followed through on that impulse, I just smiled and nodded. These Germans were all armed and Rhys killed them all. I had him roll Push Yourself to power through the physical trauma; but, not to determine if he could will himself through the ordeal.

Redemption?

As awesome as it is to play through Rhys’ madness, the Rhys-Wickersham redemption thing is really the best stuff. That wouldn’t be possible without the evil that both Rhys and Wickersham have perpetrated. So far, Rhys has rejected every hand held out to him. Rhys’ actions are about to catch up with him in a big way. We’ll see if he has a reckoning.

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[The Regiment AP] Operation Market Garden (Session 7)

Session 7 – Arnhem Sector, British 1st Airborne Division

Last session, 2nd Platoon made a heroic charge across open ground in the face of armed enemy opposition. Rhys killed in cold blood and so did Wickersham. Kingsley saw good men fall in battle because of his decisions and gained positive confirmation that Arnhem Road Bridge is not yet wired with explosives. After his cold-blooded killings last session, Rhys spirals into nihilism.

Day 1 – 17 September 1944 – 2207 hrs.

A Bad Start

In the big picture, not a hell of a lot happened – sorry 1st Lt. Kingsley – the first session was great for you, this one, not so much. For Cpl. Rhys, in particular, and for L/Cpl. Wickersham too, this is their defining session.

After the meeting with Kingsley, Rhys heads up to the fourth floor and spots a couple of Germans moving through the close under the building opposite them, to the east. He pops the pin on a grenade and throws it through the window at them, killing them in the confined space below. He stands there, observing their fate in a completely detached way. The Germans in the opposite building start shooting back after the detonation and Rhys, lingering in the window, takes fire.

Rhys withdraws out of the flat and into the hallway, not hurt; but, more wound up than before. He encounters L/Cpl. Johnson and Pvt. Thornburg in the hall. They notice him but pretend they don’t. They know he killed those Germans in cold blood and they haven’t come to terms with it. So Rhys leaves them behind without a word and heads off in search of Sgt. Powell, who was missing from the 2nd Platoon staff meeting last session. Johnson and Thornburg are more than happy to see him go.

Poor Choices

Rhys heads south and then east through the outer ring of the apartment complex. Then, he hears a heavy German accent speaking in English. He briefly listens in at the door and deduces that the Germans have a British prisoner and are interrogating him. So Rhys kicks in the door.

There are three German soldiers in the room along with Sgt. Powell. A German officer is interrogating Powell and a NCO is covering Powell with a rifle. The other German, who is supposed to be covering the door with his SMG, is actually paying more attention to the interrogation. So, Rhys gets the drop on them.

Rhys steps in and fires on the SMG-toting guard, killing him where he stands. A few haphazard shots are fired back, causing Rhys stress. The Germans are stunned by the sudden interruption. Rhys fixes his bayonet. Powell seizes the opportunity and tackles the NCO guarding him while Rhys readies himself to spear the officer.

Rhys stabs the officer with fixed bayonet and the officer falls down, wounded, but not finished. Rhys is completely absorbed, so I have his player roll for Powell, who is fighting for his life, unarmed, against an armed enemy without any help from Rhys. Rhys’ player blows the roll.

Rhys hears the sounds of Powell’s life being extinguished but feet from him while, totally aloof, he stares down the German officer in front of him, who is fumbling for his own pistol. Rhys clears his mind for a moment and wheels around. The German that killed Powell is standing on top of him, knife drawn and covered in Powell’s blood. Rhys spears him and, in return, is shot in the back by the German officer.

Stunned, Rhys pauses. The German officer, in poor shape himself, let’s his gun arm fall to the ground in exhaustion. Rhys turns around, one slow, leaden footfall after the other. The officer is paralytic. With the last of his strength, Rhys lunges toward the German officer and buries his bayoneted rifle into the German’s skull. Then he collapses on top of the German. Rhys is down for the count.

A Worse End to an Already Bad Day

Meanwhile, Wickersham is making his rounds and he heads up to the fourth floor. There, he encounters Johnson and Thornburg. He asks where Rhys is and they dismissively point, “Over there, by himself.” Bobby shames them into coming with him in search of Rhys and they reluctantly follow. They hear the gunshots and the ensuing struggle coming from down the hall and rush to help.

When Wickersham gets there, he sees five bodies and one of them is Rhys. Bobby quickly checks to see if anyone’s alive: Rhys is hanging on; but, he’s critical. Everyone else is finished.

Bobby stabilizes Rhys with a successful medic roll. This is where the two characters really clicked, the scene they had in the previous session after Rhys had just killed his second lot of unarmed Germans and Wickersham had just induced fatal bleeding in his patient was just foreplay. I don’t think I can do it justice in my dry exposition, so I’ll leave it to your imagination. In summary, Rhys had a bit of an emotional meltdown and Wickersham did his damndest to keep it together himself; but, wasn’t; entirely successful either. In the end, they bonded, big time.

In parting, Bobby wants Rhys to retire to the field hospital to get real medical treatment and away from the stress of combat. Rhys asserts that he’s fine, even though he clearly isn’t and they are left at an impasse. Rhys ultimately guilts/calls Wickersham’s bluff, so Bobby leaves Rhys there while Johnson and Thornburg scrounge for “food and medical supplies” in the adjacent flats. Wickersham doesn’t press the issue; but, returns to Kingsley with Powell’s dog tag instead.

Administrivia

When Wickersham meets up with Kingsley, Kingsley is busy reorganizing his platoon. Bobby informs him of Powell’s death and Kingsley runs down his mental list of assault squad’s corporals for acting sergeant duty. Rhys is Kingsley’s first choice. Bobby tells him that Rhys is barely holding on to his sanity and is unfit for such a duty. So Kingsley assesses the situation. I give him the pros and cons of the two corporals available to him and he chooses the one who thinks better on his feet for the job, passing over the assistant squad leader and Rhys, who are both senior.

In the background, Kingsley consolidated 2nd Platoon’s gains and is poised to oust the Germans from the apartment complex. It’s now the wee hours of day 2.

It was a short session. That’s where we left it.

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