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[Hell for Leather] Run & Rest - 70s Narcs

Started by Sebastian K. Hickey, May 25, 2010, 12:16:42 AM

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Sebastian K. Hickey

Last week I got another chance to playtest Hell for Leather, this time dressed in golden medallions and gorgeous sideburns.

We built the Frame (world and setting) quickly, but this time we ran with the first idea that came along (70s narcotics unit gone bad) rather than using the Quick Framing rules. Once you use those rules a couple of times, you get educated—if you haven't read them, here's how they work: no one says "no" and you bid to make suggestions. Soon enough, if you realise what's going on, you can do without them. I like that. It's like there's a little teacher in my book, doing a tutorial on how to run better games. I don't remember putting him there, but he's there nonetheless. Thanks game.

Backdrop Problems
I was anxious about the chaos of play. It's all fine when everyone plays the same, but sometimes (ahem) you get a group of people who want different things at different times. For example, three people want an action scene and two want to explore character. If there are tools there for individuals to take over the flow of the game, and there are differences in expectation, then the game will slosh all over itself as individual players tug it from one direction to another.

For example, I chose a bar for the Backdrop (scene) and I positioned the other characters in that bar so that one of the characters was being accosted by the local drunks. Immediately, Eoin changed the Backdrop. Now it was an hour later and the characters had the key to a truck. Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Where was my scene? It had vanished in a puff of smoke, because one player wanted something different and they had the authority to change it. Even though my scene was predictable and crass, it was still my scene. My ideas should count, even if they're a bit rubbish.

This pattern has been repeating over the last few playtests: someone says one thing and then gets overruled. The mechanics support it, reward it even. Of course, finding this out was a real nugget of gold. I've been able to come up with a much better solution since.

But before I go into that, I'll just talk briefly about the new characterisation scenes, which I had provisionally called "time-outs."

In this playtest, each character had to pick an "agenda." This was a simple motivation targeted against another character. During character creation, all the players were being asked what they wanted from another character, and why. Playing a 70s narc unit gone bad, we had a couple of angles: There was Guy the Addict who wanted to find out about the hidden stash from Ray; Ray the Thuggish Follower who wanted gain respect from James; and James the Lieutenant who wanted to turn Guy into a scapegoat.

There was a much greater sense of depth from this playtest. We had interesting conflict. This was enhanced by the time-out rules, where a player could call for a special kind of scene to see whether or not a character could reconcile his agenda. The mechanical effect was that a player could reduce the height of the Heat (the stack of wobbly dice) depending on how the agenda was resolved.

Although time-outs hadn't fixed the bigger issue, they opened the door for my next decision, which I'll go through briefly.

Run or Rest?
I had this outstanding problem: players could negatively derail an idea too easily. The solution was to put one person temporarily in charge of a scene's purpose, while at the same time rewarding suggestions and other kinds of contribution[1].

Yawn (rules stuff): One player chooses a scene type: Run (plot) or Rest (character). If there's a Run Scene, the player must state the Scene's Objective. Players now play out that Scene according to the Objective.

What the hell does that mean? It means, "this is a Run Scene, it's set in a bar, and it ain't over until someone gets the keys to the army truck." It means, "do my idea!" It means, "you'll get your turn, but until then, make my turn awesome!"

Yawn (rules stuff): If there's a Rest Scene (these replace the time-out rules), one player's character tries to convince another player's character to betray his own Flaw. If he succeeds, the Flaw is changed, the character gets a Trauma and the Heat goes down. If he fails, the Heat goes up.

And what the hell is all that Trauma nonsense and Flaws and stuff? It means, "we're in a truck and I'm trying to convince your Cowardly character to get on top and fire at the helicopters." It means that if you go with it, you're not Cowardly any more, but instead you're Bloodthirsty or Arrogant. It also means that you'll be rolling dice with your off-hand and will probably get killed. Soon.

I'm sure that these rules temper the chaos. I'm also sure that they expose characterisation. I'm not sure, however, if there will be too much front-loading and pre-play.

Anyway, here's the Frame:

Prologue: Gameshow, 70s, Hyperviolent
Adversary: The Network
Gore Threshold: 5
Connection: Narcotics unit gone bad

Drop-Off: Highway, busted prison van
Objective: Manhattan Network HQ
Checkpoint 1: Find Captain Kessler
Checkpoint 2: Escape Cartel Ambush
Checkpoint 3: Kidnap the D.A. and his family

Playtime: 2.5 Hours, Players: 3, Ruleset: 1.06

1 It looks a lot like the PTA scene rig—its funny and rewarding how you accidentally start to understand the patterns in other design.