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Author Topic: Haven: City of Violence  (Read 4875 times)
Tim Alexander
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« on: September 25, 2003, 11:00:24 AM »

Hey Folks,

So I stopped by Ron's campus club meeting on Tuesday, and he'd prepped a game of Haven:City of Violence. The whole meeting was a pretty interesting experience, there were quite a few college freshmen who showed, and I hadn't been so close to folks at that period of their lives in going on ten years now. Suffice to say it was eye-opening, and mainly I was struck at the bravery that it takes to make that sort of social leap of faith. It may well be useful to have an entirely separate post about it. In the meantime though, back to Haven.

For those of you unfamiliar with the game (as I was) it's set in a fictionalized city of Haven, somewhere on the East Coast. It's a somewhat near future, based around a sort of mishmash of elements from various films. It's got a lot of heavy cliches and stereotypes, with the basic idea being that the city has been divided amongst various gangs of organized crime, the police nominally functioning as a participant as well. These gangs are split on particular focuses, and along ethnic lines. So, you've got the Asian vice gang, the White Supremacist violence gang, the Latin information broker gang, etc. It's not real complex relationships here, it's heavy stereotype and film cliche. So, take that as you will.

It seems to be going for the feel of films in the vein of John Woo and his imitators, both here and abroad. This is mixed to some extent with aspects of The Godfather, Carlito's Way, Scarface. Blurred lines of morality, high violence, anti-heros, etc. etc. Whether the system actually delivers on this is still open to debate in my mind. Which brings me to some setup for the night's play.

Participating in the game was myself, Ron playing base, and a pair of college freshman who were both entirely new to tabletop roleplaying. One came from a MMORPG background, who although owned the D&D3E books, seemed not to have had much experience actually using them. The other had done some CCGs, but was as I understood it new to RPGs entirely. None of the four of us had played with each other at all, so we had that aspect on top of the whole thing. Our in game personas were, to be a bit minimalist, "The Gun Bunny," "The Cop," and "The Small Time Criminal."

The setup was that some fifteen years ago a kid from a family connected to one of the major Mafia families was kidnapped. Payment to the tune of 4.5 million was paid out, but somehow was lost. The kid (Giancarlo "The Gun Bunny") grows up with a pair of men who would eventually shake out to become the two major players at the top of the mob, Enzo Marcone, and 'Uncle' Julie Scarpone. He's now a hired gun for the mob, consistently passed over and destined for the crap jobs. Enzo is getting on in years, under indictment again, and the family isn't doing much about it. More than that, Uncle Julie just asked Giancarlo to go lean on Enzo a bit. Meanwhile Casey, an Irishman, ("The Small Time Criminal") is out on parole and ends up in an arrangement with Enzo over the money from the kidnapping; which is sitting at the bottom of the lake which Enzo's summer home sits at the edge of. The money has rested there for some fifteen years, and is marked, so needs to be taken out of the country before it's actually useful to anyone. Lastly, "The Cop," who's name in the game escapes me for the moment, is tipped to the fact that someone may well be out to get him, and that it's somehow related to the parole board.

As an aside, we ended up with the following bit of irony:

-Casey, a red-headed Irishman, played by an Asian.
-The Cop, an Asian, played by a slender Italian fellow.
-Giancarlo, a slender Italian hitman, played by a red-headed Irishman.

Wacky.

Anyhow, the relationships built into the scenario were pretty tightly woven. Casey's got a brother married to the Cop's sister, Giancarlo is attached to Casey through Enzo. It's a bit pat, but it was intentionally made so given that the format of the club is geared to one-shot scenarios. Ron pushed those relationships fairly hard in play to keep things moving. In some ways, it would have been nice to have been able to address things at a more leisurely pace. There were some scenes which I would have loved to let develop, but that we really didn't have time for. That aside, how the heck did play go?

Well, the system itself is pretty sim, a handful of attributes, a skill list, some edges and drawbacks that give nifty abilities or flaws. The resolution system uses a d20, and you're rolling under skill+attribute modified by situation. It's pretty standard stuff, but it's functional enough. The big departure from the s+a method is in unarmed combat, where you're picking defensive and offensive maneuvers against an opponents choices. Unfortunately the end result is that the game itself falls somewhat short of actually achieving the feel of it's source material. The player characters have almost no advantage against their opponents, bullets have a tendency to miss, but when they do they're awfully deadly. I can easily envision a character getting plugged in the first five minutes of a game and being killed. This is somewhat against the "multiple opponents destroyed in a hail of gunfire" feel that the game seems to be trying to emulate. Unarmed combat is sort of neat, but without a pretty good familiarity with it you're dealing with a pretty high handling cost.

All that said, I had a pretty good time. The two other players, while a tiny bit gunshy at the newness of the whole thing at first, fell into their roles quite nicely. They wanted to make decisions, they wanted them to matter, they were vested in the story. It was pretty cool to see actually. I'm very curious to see the style of play they develop over time. At the end of the day, The Cop is the only one that puts all the peices together. He ends up  finding Casey hauling up the money while Giancarlo has gone to take care of Uncle Julie for his betrayal. Casey, rather than face any possible charges, walks away from the money, and The Cop opens the case before letting it sink back to the bottom of the lake, destroying it. Giancarlo finds out later, only to find the money a pile of sludge and worthless.

Highlights include the moment where The Cop is attacked by a corrupt member of Internal Affairs at the Sister's house, and through a bunch of luck gets the better of him, forcing him to cough up the details of the parole plot. In that same scene, Giancarlo ends up gunning down a couple of plainsclothes to get hold of the brother, who he believed was Casey. There was a fun bit of cautious standoff between the Cop and the Italian hitman, resulting in the Cop sending the hitman off to one more step on the trail to Casey, and the brother being let go. Also, Casey getting the best of a couple of thugs sent by the Italians, while it took some doing to get the charts squared away, was fairly satisfactory in the imagery it evoked after it was all said and done. The other big scene, was basically where Casey and Giancarlo blow their chance at actually getting together, which probably would have resulted in a win win. There was also a surprisingly sympathetic scene for Enzo's much younger wife after The Cop arrives at the summer home to find that Enzo has passed.

So, all in all, it was a good time. The system needs some massaging to have it actually work for the setting in my opinion, and I have no idea how well the game would be suited for any long term play. I obviously wasn't involved in chargen, so can't comment, but it looks pretty weighted towards point manipulation. As I mentioned, I wish things could have developed a bit more slowly, but the one session orientation of the club itself made that not really an option.

-Tim
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: September 25, 2003, 02:55:41 PM »

Hi there,

Here's the text of the one-sheet that I passed out to the players. Each of them got the general info sections, and then each sheet had its own individual character text. All of the following is mine; none of it was transcribed from the game text.

******
Haven: City of Violence
Louis Porter, Jr. Design

What's this game about?
It's all about the city: dark streets, gang wars, corrupt politics, and making your own rules when you're pushed to the wall. No one is innocent, and morality emerges from the barrel of a gun.

The war between the Santucci and Carlucci families smolders on, even after the destruction of the key families and the takeover of most of the city by newcomers. The Red Wing Tong rules the vice trade, the Nubian Nation battles the Aryan Brotherhood in the streets, and the Sangre trade information to whoever can pay. Cops either battle against the tide for small victories, or succumb to the temptation to scoop up the profits as well.

Some well-known information, for those who know
About 17-18 years ago, there was a kidnapping which threw the whole underworld of Haven for a loop. The D'Arcangelos were a crucial cog in the massive Santucci wheel of crime, as Leonardo D'Arcangelo had the courts socked up in his judge's pocket. When their kid was snatched, you can bet the family paid off big - to the tune of four and a half million dollars.

The perps were idiots, though, and after they got their money, they screwed up on a shooting spree at a drugstore and ended up riddled with cop bullets. The kid was in the trunk; he lived. Misunderstandings among crime families about the affair led to the deaths of his parents, a few weeks later. You know what, though? That money was never found. No one knew where they stashed it, or how.

Here's the key: that money was marked. It's useless in the United States, and it's a death-sentence to anyone who holds out on the Santuccis about it. But if it's moved off-shore? Pure gold, my friend, not full value to be sure, but plenty. The only trouble would be finding it, brokering the deal, closing the deal, and getting out with a whole skin.

Your character
Casey Connelly is a tough, smart guy who made a few bad choices and never got a break. He's been in prison twice, and is now out on parole; if he gets busted again, he'll go away for good. But the citizen's life just isn't for him, and now he's onto a sure thing. Specifically, he's good pals with Enzo Marcone, a big Santucci honcho who favors Casey over any of his family cronies. And sunk in the lake on Enzo's country getaway property, in an old car, is a payoff - the long-lost D'Arcangelo money. Since Enzo relies on Casey for just about everything these days, and cut him in on the secret, and since Casey's really in (knowwhatImean) with Enzo's young wife, well, there are a lot of possibilities.

Here are the sticky points. (1) Getting in touch with the Red Wing Tong, the most likely market for the money. Maybe Casey's brother's wife could help, 'cause she's tight with them. But Michael's a good guy, and Casey doesn't want to see him hurt or over-associate him with Casey's criminal life. (2) Keeping the Santucci family out of it; they'll want to run the whole thing and give Casey a quiet burial, and Enzo's one of them, even if he is taking a back seat since his heart attack. (3) And Officer Peters, the nice old forgiving parole guy, has just retired - his replacement could be a real problem, if Casey's unlucky, and Casey's never been lucky yet.

Your character
Giancarlo D'Arcangelo has a brutal past. He was the kid who was kidnapped, and ever since, he's been under the wing of his parents' friends, old Enzo Marcone and Uncle Julie (or rather, Julio Santucci, the war-dog of the crime family, indicted over a hundred times and never convicted). Gian has tried to make his name and way as a good family soldier, but bluntly, he's thinking that he's been used. Guys who didn't do half what he's done are made over him, again and again. Gian takes honor seriously, and part of honor is realizing when you're being screwed, when Uncle Julie assigns him all the crap jobs and treats him like hired help.

And now, old Enzo's feeble as hell after his heart attack, and it seems that the family is hanging him out to dry - he's been indicted yet again for tax fraud and conspiracy, and this time, no family lawyers are squaring up or witnesses being organized. Even worse, Uncle Julie has issued some very private orders to Gian, which is to lean on the old man, hard. Why? "You're a good boy, Gian. You know not to ask questions."

Your character
Ken Wong is a police detective with a past. He ran with the gangs as a kid, but never got picked up and thus has no record. He has major contacts with the Red Wing Tong to this day. His sister Jackie, for instance, although she's married to some nice straight professor, is still a party animal and knows all the coke spoons in town.

Like all Haven cops, Ken sees justice spat upon every day, through graft, preferential treatment, and forced confessions. For his part, his bias is that arrested members of the Red Wing Tong get full due process. He stays pretty clean, though - the Tong owns no part of him, and he accepts nothing from them. In any other city, he'd be considered a "bent" cop, but in Haven, he's a paragon of virtue.

Which puts him in direct opposition to some other cops, notably Burton LaSalle, who would have been booted even out of the Haven P.D. long ago if he wasn't in the Internal Affairs department himself. Ken is lucky, you see. He's survived a lot of bad situations when other cops were injured or killed, and LaSalle has never forgiven him for making it through a shoot-out when LaSalle's partner didn't.


*****
The handouts also included a one-sheet about Haven rules (mainly about hurting other people) and the full two-page character sheets.

I'll post more about my decisions and impressions from the game later.

Best,
Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: September 26, 2003, 08:29:17 AM »

Hello,

You can see some very brief comments by me about the game's system in this RPG.net thread, Haven: City of Violence: any good? what's it like?. I think I'll need more play time before being ready to write my Forge review.

I'd like to focus on the play-experience that both Tim and I observed in our fellow players. Again, neither of them were table-top players at all, although they were very enthusiastic about trying.

1. They were not only enthusiastic, they were fantastic. By my standards, I was railroading like a motherfucker, because that's what the game text tells you to do. I "un-railroaded" the activity by getting consent from the player before making decisions for the character. Interestingly, this also demonstrated that neither player minded me, as GM, occasionally making such decisions. At one point, I called for an investigatory-type roll from the player although he had not announced any such action. It was a way of getting information to the group, and a common technique of "GM-Force" - Roll Investigate. Success? OK, your guy is going through some files, and he finds ... But in this case, I did ask if that was OK with him, and he said yes.

By contrast, and equally positively, the other player, at one point, performed the opposite act - I'd had two thugs grab him in a certain way, and he wanted them to have grabbed him in another way, so that the moves he had in mind could be executed. He asked; I said yes.

My point is that in the one case, my "intrusion" into his character's decisions and actions, and in the other, his "intrusion" into GM-type stuff, were completely non-problematic. I'm fairly convinced that neither player really processed these as being any different from "regular" GM and player announcements. As long as everyone framed such activity in terms of consensual agreement before (or rather never) getting dogmatic about "I say so," then it was effortless.

2. Narration of outcomes was non-problematic and wholly unstructured - if one of them felt like describing the event, he did; if he didn't, he didn't, in which case I or rarely another player did. [Clarification: I'm talking about narrating outcomes, not determining them.] On a related note, both of them were apparently entirely engaged in the scenes which featured other characters, and as such, were just as equipped to narrate how X hit Y, or whatever, as anyone.

I wouldn't like to fall into the trap of saying "early ontogeny represents purity," but in this case, I'm tending that way. In other words, these two fellows were awesome role-players, up to and including defining their apparent preference of the moment (Narrativism) without overt push from me in that direction ... and I very strongly suspect it's because they were not veterans of role-playing games commonly experienced as "introductions."

Best,
Ron
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Tim Alexander
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« Reply #3 on: September 26, 2003, 08:49:26 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards

By contrast, and equally positively, the other player, at one point, performed the opposite act - I'd had two thugs grab him in a certain way, and he wanted them to have grabbed him in another way, so that the moves he had in mind could be executed. He asked; I said yes.


Ooh, I'm so glad you mentioned this. I made special note of this at the time and thought it was fantastic.

Quote

I wouldn't like to fall into the trap of saying "early ontogeny represents purity," but in this case, I'm tending that way. In other words, these two fellows were awesome role-players, up to and including defining their apparent preference of the moment (Narrativism) without overt push from me in that direction ... and I very strongly suspect it's because they were not veterans of role-playing games commonly experienced as "introductions."


I tend to agree with you here. I'm curious to see how they end up gravitating over time, since I did get some Sim vibes in how Casey's Player handled a couple of situations. I'm curious to see them involved with other groups. I do think your style encourages Narrativism, while not forcing it, in spite of this seeming to be an overall poor example given some of the constraints. I wonder how much of their play is a reflection of that encouragement, versus a natural inclination.

-Tim
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: September 26, 2003, 01:53:24 PM »

Hi Tim,

You wrote,

Quote
I do think your style encourages Narrativism, while not forcing it, in spite of this seeming to be an overall poor example given some of the constraints. I wonder how much of their play is a reflection of that encouragement, versus a natural inclination.


I agree about the encouragement. I have a very hard time, these days, playing GM-does-all-story; it's exhausting and unrewarding for me.

However, in this game, I stopped myself from the kinds of encouraging techniques I use when people play Trollbabe, Sorcerer, or The Riddle of Steel for the first time (to name a few games I demo a lot). Especially obvious examples of such techniques are phrases like, "And now you're the writer," or in character terms, "You're the main guy! What do you do!" I'm usually subtler, by the way; these are just the extreme and rare-ish examples.

I'd say the most overt moment of such a thing in our Haven game was my interpretation of your fumbled roll for Gian, when Casey is trying to get Gian to bug off, and Gian is trying to get Casey to talk to him. As it turned out, Casey failed, only because his Unlucky flaw forced a re-roll. And if Gian succeeded, then it was likely that Gian and Casey would team up in a killer-duo pair against the Santuccis. (Casey's player had already announced some time before, out of the blue, that if he could get his character into a vendetta against the Santuccis, that would be cool.)

So it's Gian's roll ... and it's a 20, the single fumble in the session. Fumbles in Haven are no joke; you screw the pooch. So I suggested that the outcome is the big "pass in the night" moment for the story/movie, in that we know the characters could have teamed up and maybe brought some rough justice to the world, but they just rebound and head off to different fates.

That's way Author Stance, and it's way Fortune-in-the-Middle, and it's way, way multi-input-consensus for a resolution roll's outcome (which is not consistent with Haven's play-text at all).

Aside from that, I restricted my Narrativist impulses merely to playing very engaging NPCs who apparently prompted very strong, thematic reactions from the players, and also to making sure I'd handed most of the plot-affecting potential to the player-characters from the start. I'd say we had some Narrativist moments, but more in that "glimmery" once-in-a-while way among the mainly Simulationist play.

Best,
Ron
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Tim Alexander
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« Reply #5 on: September 29, 2003, 11:16:38 AM »

Hey Again,

Quote
However, in this game, I stopped myself from the kinds of encouraging techniques I use when people play Trollbabe, Sorcerer, or The Riddle of Steel for the first time (to name a few games I demo a lot).


Was this specifically because of how you saw Haven presented in the text, and so were trying to stick to the game's designs on it's own? Or did you have other reasons?

Quote
So it's Gian's roll ... and it's a 20, the single fumble in the session. Fumbles in Haven are no joke; you screw the pooch. So I suggested that the outcome is the big "pass in the night" moment for the story/movie, in that we know the characters could have teamed up and maybe brought some rough justice to the world, but they just rebound and head off to different fates.


What a moment of frustration to look at the dice and realize, "Nooooooooo." Such a neat outcome though. I'm curious, given a different setting, would you have pushed to the roll so quickly?

-Tim
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: September 29, 2003, 11:52:14 AM »

Hi Tim,

My choice about the low-encouragement was definitely text-driven. Haven states very clearly that play is all about "setting"-driven stories, with the GM cited as the authority, motor, pacer, justifier, and direction-provider for the stories. The players' stated role is (and I am not exaggerating) to feel anxiety for the fates of their characters.

I confess my own predilections tweaked things a tad away from there, more toward protagonist-decision oriented play, but again, I tried to keep from slamming into Narrativist-coach mode on full go.

Regarding the setting/system and that crucial roll, I'm not sure whether I would have said "Roll!" earlier or later in another game. In some games, there's a lot of post-roll adjustments that can factor in, such as Hero Points in HeroQuest. In others, there's a lot of pre-roll adjustments that role-playing can bring in, like the bonus dice in Sorcerer. So it's hard to say.

Best,
Ron
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Tim Alexander
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« Reply #7 on: September 29, 2003, 12:30:14 PM »

Hey Ron,

Quote from: Ron Edwards
The players' stated role is (and I am not exaggerating) to feel anxiety for the fates of their characters.


Ouch. I think given the amount of work it looks like chargen entails, that's not a type of play I'd be very interested in.

Quote

Regarding the setting/system and that crucial roll, I'm not sure whether I would have said "Roll!" earlier or later in another game. In some games, there's a lot of post-roll adjustments that can factor in, such as Hero Points in HeroQuest. In others, there's a lot of pre-roll adjustments that role-playing can bring in, like the bonus dice in Sorcerer. So it's hard to say.


Interesting. I remember feeling pushed into it a bit at the time, but understanding the need to keep things moving. I wasn't sure how much of that was Haven, how much was the constraints of the club timeframe, and how much your own style.

-Tim
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: September 29, 2003, 12:45:12 PM »

Hi Tim,

I think, on reflection, it was mostly a time-frame thing.

You might be interested to know that my suggested interpretation of the rolls was a function of their content: failure and a fumble. If it had been merely two failures, the most logical outcome might have been an immediate gunfight ...

Best,
Ron
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Tim Alexander
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« Reply #9 on: September 29, 2003, 01:02:04 PM »

Hey again,

Quote from: Ron Edwards
I think, on reflection, it was mostly a time-frame thing.


Ok, that jives with how I felt at the time.

Quote

You might be interested to know that my suggested interpretation of the rolls was a function of their content: failure and a fumble. If it had been merely two failures, the most logical outcome might have been an immediate gunfight ...


That is interesting. Given the system that would have been pretty one-sided I think, so in all likelihood Casey would have ended up dead, or at least with his life in Gian's hands. I take it that you see the gunfight as being a somewhat less bittersweet result than the pass in the night? Or that a gunfight left open more options than the fumble result did?

-Tim
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: September 29, 2003, 01:47:21 PM »

H'm,

"Gunfight" was the wrong word. "Physical conflict" is what I was trying to express. Theoretically, any such conflict between Gian and Casey, if surprise and long-distance weren't involved, would begin by maneuvering to establish whether guns or hand-to-hand was the venue. I'd have had to pull out the how-fast rules and we'd have had to map it at a fairly fine scale. I think it was my reluctance to get into that kind of finely-granulated play (at that time of night) that led to a feeling of relief at the actual dice results, rather than any sort of story-outcome preference.

And to speak of the dice for a moment, I don't think a double failure would have necessitated such a conflict, but it would have opened the door for me to suggest it as an interpretation.

Best,
Ron
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Tim Alexander
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« Reply #11 on: September 30, 2003, 05:57:13 AM »

Hey Ron,

Got it, I have to say I'm glad we didn't end up going that route.

-Tim
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