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[Schism] First game

Started by Mister Six, March 19, 2006, 10:58:15 PM

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Mister Six

My rpg group played Schism for the first time last weekend. We have an ongoing Ninth Gate meets Twin Peaks Sorcerer game, but a player couldn't make it, so we decided to try out the supplement. Despite some system stutters on my part as GM, we had a great time & managed to prep characters, situation & actually play. I think the fact that the supplement has a one-sheet helped to get rolling.

Ruby is a Traumatized psychogen whose Burn powers manifested after she was the only survivor in a plane crash. She fears flying & freaks out when planes fly-over. She went with a high Origin & had a pretty high Burn. She's 21, but acts about ten, with a creepy little girl voice -- her will is Space Monkey. Cover is Street Orphan. She dumpster dives for toys since she never had any when she was a kid. The mob had been using her as a human bomb but she went underground. So they sent a Tracker after her.

The Tracker is Damen, a street savvy small-con operator, who runs 3 card monty games. The player described his relationship with the mob as Ghost Dog's relationship with his mafia controller -- known only to them. The lieutenant Yanos calls him on the QT for tracking jobs. He was supposed to bring back Ruby, but decided to save her instead. They've formed a father-daughter relationship, based loosely on  Charlie & her father in Firestarter. Damen is a Mutant (poisoned by the City Canal) withTrack & Sieze at 4. He's the controller of the cabal. While he looks out for Ruby, he ruthlessly manipulates the 3rd member of the cabal, The Hippy.

The Hippy is a government Test Subject. Since I made a house rule that you could take the additional Origin of Carrier for 1 starting development point, he went for 8 Stamina, 2 Origin & 1 Will. Though he is a buddhist, he often flips out in stressful situations, letting his Morph take over. His cover is Hippy, which we let cover a broad range of effects, like couch-surfing, getting drugs, knowing the right people. Jokes about The Dude from the Big Lebowski came up a lot. His 1 Will left him very vulnerable to Damen's Seize power.

Once the characters were made up, we started pitching starting situations. The players came up with most of the material here, while I asked questions & took notes. They picked the Southside Blades from the example Cabal section as antagonists, changing names & making them drug & viral software dealers. We talked about taking some of the class warfare elements of cyberpunk and decided the setting would feature scarcity and a sharp division between haves and have-nots. I asked players to make up at least 2 NPCs and at least one location that would be connected to their characters.

Here's a brief description of play; not all scenes are represented.
Yanos hired Damen to track down Socket (Ripper from the supplement) because he'd taken over the Blades, and wouldn't pay the mob their due and proper. Socket was known as a volatile Mutant capable of hideous strength.

The cabal went to go see Socket's psycho stripper girlfriend (Spider) at the club, Sodom. Damen bought Hippy a private lapdance with Spider on a catwalk stage. Socket showed up & watched from the bar. Hippy decided the dance would trigger his price (rippling mutations) - but Spider dug it & started massaging his freaky mutations & getting sexual. Socket pulled a knife and wanted to kill them both, but Damen Seized Hippy, then talked Socket down. Later, Damen & Hippy talked him into a drug deal - a sting in which Socket would get ambushed by the Mob & the cabal would skate with the cash. Ruby got freaked by the sexuality in the club & used Burn to heat up the cat-walk structure. She also had a disturbing flirtation scene with Socket.

They attended Bridge Street Day, a Blade-runner-esque bazaar. Hippy used his cover to find the best acid in the world & got total victory. The trip segued into his schism Death Scene for a while, which was cool. Damen & Ruby had set up Hippy to be attacked by the mob to make their sting look more legit. He flipped out, morphed his hands into bowling ball-size fists & went after the mobsters but Damen seized him. The mobsters ran & the crowd started whispering about Psychogens, so they split.

Their sting went down at a warehouse. Hippy's expertise with narcotics was crucial for the set-up of the drug deal, but he was wigged on the world's best acid when the deal went down. Damen did a great job of using Seize to handle the con, first Seizing the drug-tester to give thumbs up to phony drugs, then on Socket's 2nd hand man, forcing him to make a phone call that gave the Blades the all-clear. When the Blades tried to drive off with the phony drugs, the Mob plowed into them in big black sedans, machine-guns blazing. Ruby wiped out half the gang by blowing up one of their bikes & turning that into a major conflagration. Damen used Seize to crash a biker. Hippy used cover to escape with the cash & then played Socket for the rest of the scene. He realized Socket had Jump (I hadn't read its description & thought it was a wuxia leap!) & so teleported away.

Damen's Track was the same range as Socket's Jump, plus the Jump tired Socket out, so it didn't take them long to track him down. Hippy used the shapeshift aspect of Morph to look like Socket's 2nd hand man & did a "come with me boss" routine. This ended with Hippy morphing bladehands to slash Socket's throat in +3 dice surprise attack, Socket Boosting his stamina to attack Hippy, 2 mobsters shooting at Socket & Ruby ducking into the stairwell (she liked Socket & didn't want to see him die). Hippy went first, slashing. Socket aborted to defense and lost, spurting blood. He won a Will vs. Stamina to stay on his feet. Damen seized him and had him walk toward the mob gunmen with outstretched arms & they mowed him down. Ruby, who admired Socket's boots in an earlier scene, came out of hiding & started taking them off. Socket said he had dreamed this and died.
I was concerned about the potentially very rapid humanity drain, but there was only one Control failure that lead to loss of one humanity. The supplement doesn't address gaining humanity & maybe the author's idea is that you shouldn't. But I let Damen have a humanity gain roll for sticking by Ruby when he could've run at one point. I like the idea that the PCs are circling the drain -- I guess it's just a matter of how fast they go down. I do wonder if giving humanity rolls fluffs the premise of the game too much.

I like the vestigial powers. Characters with Origin 2 or higher have access to all the powers within their type at 1. We used focus dice with vestigials, though I'm not sure the rules support that. Only one player tried using a vestigial but failed.

There's no sorcery in Schism. But access to Transcendence & Gain Discipline give you some similar ways to ramp up existing powers or gain new ones to deal with big dilemmas. Transcendence is really cool because it allows for "blow the budget" moments where power achieves maximum effect. No one tried it in this game but I'm looking forward to seeing it in action. I should've called for a "Spontaneous Manifestation" roll when Hippy was getting his morphed-up lap dance but didn't think of it.

The Origins are cool and bring great color into the game. Beyond the back-story function & serving as a battery for starting powers, we didn't use it as any kind of mechanic. At one point, Socket revealed to Damen that he had grown up on the Canal, so they shared the same Origin of Mutant: Poisoned by City Canal. I thought that was a nice sympathy-building moment for Socket. I am thinking we could use Origin for a stand-in for Lore in a manner similar to the "Brush with the Unknown" descriptor from S&S, to bring it into the game more.

Morph pools with stamina, so Hippy (along with +1 for Price & +1 for Focus) could usually get 14 dice for Morph challenges and the discipline has a nice broad range of effects. I was a little concerned at how total Seize is. It seems, once you seize someone, you could have him go to the bank to withdraw all funds, give it to you & kill himself, all under the umbrella of a single roll. I kept wanting a way to break it out into separate conflicts. But, since the game, I started thinking of Seize in terms of the way Possession works in Sorcerer, which is pretty total. And since the power is a stand alone roll (does not roll into Will), its totality of effect is balanced by lower chance of success.

The telltales are good at reinforcing the outsider freak theme. The more you boost your power with Transcendence & Gain, the more freakish you become. I didn't apply the penalties from Price & Telltales often and I need to find a way to do this next time. I particularly liked the Death Scenes, and am looking forward to seeing how we can work these into play.

We all enjoyed the system and plan to play again. I asked the players to come up with Kickers for the next session, and we talked about going with a Hunted scenario.


Ron Edwards

Hi Chris! I am a bad person for not replying to this earlier.

First of all, now that we've actually played some Sorcerer together this past weekend (was that only yesterday? geez), you can see that it's easy to forget to apply Price penalties. I missed about four opportunities to do so during our single session.

Second, Schism was definitely written not only for circling the drain, but going down it. I think Jared was very big on the "do you die on your feet or on your knees" when he wrote it, so gaining Humanity just wasn't part of the book. On the other hand, I don't think Humanity works as a thematic mechanic unless you can improve it, so I think I would have made the same ruling as you did.

I really, really like your summary and as far as I know, this might be the single actual-play account of Schism. I'd also like to know more about the ongoing game you have, as Twin Peaks and the Ninth Gate correspond nicely to the rules. They aren't so much influences as confluences ...

Third, you and Elizabeth are invited to contact me schnell, rapido, via email to set up more socializing and role-playing. Meeting you two was a real highlight of the Midwest Gathering for me.

Best, Ron

Jared A. Sorensen

People who play Schism are freaks.

Sounds like you had a cool thing going on there.

Yeah, Jump is a teleportation power. Humanity should never, ever increase (it has eff-all to do with morality).

I ran a Schism game at GenCon 2001 (when it debuted). It sucked, but that was because I sucked. I still suck! Man.

- J
jared a. sorensen /