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Poison'd errata and Q&A

Started by lumpley, August 24, 2007, 03:15:21 PM

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I've just posted a cruel fortune change and some GM techniques on my blog, here, check it out.

I welcome questions either here in the lumpley games forum or there on anyway, your choice.



Here are the thoughts I've been meaning to put together from our Gen Con play, in no particular order.

1) I really like that player pirates can bring the Malcontent card into play reflecting stirring up the crew.  However, mechanically, I think there needs to be an extra step to keep this from being a perpetual thing that gets old real fast.  The voting action makes it very clear that the rules give all authority to the captain but a wise captain pays attention to the will of his crew.  Consider allowing players to call for a vote, and only if the captain goes against the vote can they bring the Malcontent card in.  Other triggers might include, failing to capture a prize, or having a Want card in play too long. 

2) Fighting seems hard to balance.  Granted I have only 1 session to go by, but it seems like there is a very very narrow range in which a fight is interesting.  Its very easy to wind up with an opponent that is a cake walk, or one that is nigh invincible.  The advantages (which are really cool) make it even harder.  Against inexperienced players the default "Xs" the GM gets can clean their clock.  Against experienced players making good use of build up checks fights will be more or less over before dice hit the table.  If there's a secret to putting together an entertainingly threatening engagement I failed to find it in our session.

3) The escalation for ship pursuit makes huge amounts of game mechanical sense, but unfortunately not much story sense.  "Captain we're just not fast enough to get within cannon range of her"..."Ok, bring us up along side then".  I fully embrace the idea of escalating from long range "safe" cannon fire, to the carnage of broadsides and then to the brutality of boarding...but from a story narrative perspective it seems rather off. 

Consider making the escalation of pursuit independent of the later engagement ranges and instead just have escalation represent how beat up your ship gets from your maneuvering efforts (pile on too much sail, lose a spar; try to tack instead of wear, get thrown in irons and a mast topples) etc.  Then let the winner of the pursuit roll set the engagement range...cannon, broadside, or boarding.

4) Consider making Want work the same way as Urgency, at least as an option for convention play.  Not having the effects of Want take effect until the next session renders it ineffective for a one-shot.

5) Hunting for prizes was pretty cool, but most of a pirates life (like most predators in the animal kingdom) was spent searching for a prize and failing to find one.  The Poison'd system not only allows (unless I really misread it) pirates to find a prize EVERY time they look for one, but even to specify how big of a prize it will be.  That may just be a temporary system for the Ashcan until the rest of the mechanics gets nailed down, but I think there's a lot of potential for the system to handle the unlucky captain who just can't seem to find a prize.  Not with a lot of boring "you search and fail" rolls in series, but someway to capture the long days without seeing a sail on the horizon.  Maybe a matrix that pits "playing it safe" vs. "cruising the major trade lanes" with a larger chance for nothing or small prizes on the safe side vs. big treasure or pirate hunters on the risky side.

6) Provisions would provide an interesting additional currency.  Not in a big bean counting way, but I could easily see one of the ship's traits being cargo hold and the captain getting a certain number of provision cards (more for a skeleton crew, less for a large).  Playing a provision card is what allows the captain to roll for a prize or fight a ship or head to port, or whatever without penalty.  Running out of cards and needing to make a roll is what puts the ship into want.  Making additional rolls while the ship is in want could trigger other nastyness.  Converting Plunder into Provisions would then be an interesting tradeoff...especially when the cargo hold isn't big enough for all the plunder.  Each die of plunder could take 1 "cargo" (except 6s which take none) so dice that roll 6s represent that cache of jewels and coins while dice that roll 1s are the bolts of textile and barrels of tin plates that take a lot or room for little value.  Even more interesting potential can be had if you make the ships purser in charge of provisioning the ship.  Give the ship's cook a chance to make a roll to stretch provisions, etc.  Each crew position could have a special role to play.

7) RUM.  Speaking of provisions how about Rum that the captain gets to dole out to conciliate the crew.  A captain can play Rum cards to avoid malcontent effects, or delay the effects of Want, or to earn "Xs" for improved "morale". 

8) Ambitions.  There really could be a whole subset of mechanics for pursing one's Ambition.  Some level of "Xs" that must be earned and when enough are accumulated the big conflict for that Ambition can be triggered resulting in the pirate either getting it or failing. 

9)  Overall, I totally had a blast playing and I've got a complete weakness for cool pirate stuff (I've been known to break out my old Sega Genesis from time to time just so I can play Pirates Gold...again) but I don't know that there's enough going on in the game to keep in compelling for multiple sessions yet.  The basic framework shows tremendous promise (needing only either some massaging to get the balance right or some good tips on how to use it) but the limited options got a bit repetitive and the combat sequence felt fairly mechanical.

For this last point I suspect the game will have alot in common with Tunnels & Trolls what with all of the players rolling together in combination to get a net "how'd the fight go" roll and with the "Xs" allowing damage even when you lose (like magic in T&T).  In T&T the things that keep combat interesting (and not just a mechanical exercise in group die pool rolling) are:

a) Saving Throws.  Poison'd has the lead up advantage rolls which could accomplish much the same thing, but I'm worried the choices are limited.  There are 4, and they broadly cover a wide range of things...but given the way they pit character score vs. character score there's only likely to be 2 or maybe even only 1 that a given pirate is good at.  There's only so many times a player can narrate brutalizing a helpless victim to earn "Xs" before it gets old.  The T&T Saving Throws, on the other hand allowed players to get crazy creative and have an impact.

b) The Tactical Weapon / Character choices:  Part of the fun of T&T combat was building the character "properly" prior to the combat.  Having the right weapon for the characters stats, and using experience to bump the right combination of stats to permit the character to use the right combination of armor and weapons was a big deal.  Rolling 8d6+16 when the other character is rolling only 4d6+3 shows that you built your character better than the other guy.  In Poison'd (again unless I misread) in all combats the non captain player only rolls 2 dice.  The die of the captain the captain gave them, and the bonus "team work" die.  They get to choose how to use their Xs and whether to be in or out but no matter what, at the time the dice are rolled, they're rolling 2 dice.  Kind of boring and repetitive after a while.

c) The interaction of the 3 different types of combat dice in T&T is crucial in a way I hadn't realized until sitting down to plan a fight.  Melee weapons give you dice.  These dice add to the total for overall victory and the damage they do (i.e. the total for victory) is divided evenly among the opponents...but only if you win, otherwise nothing.  Missile weapons give you dice.  These dice apply their damage specifically to the opponent of your choice (i.e. not divided) and do that damage whether you win or lose (thus helping to guarentee taking out a specific dangerous opponent) but they don't add to the total for victory and so any player who chooses a missile weapon vs. a melee weapon is increasing the likely hood of his own side suffering damage.  And lastly magic, which is the best of both worlds.  Its damage targets specific enemies win or lose like missile weapons but ALSO applies to the overall victory total...but you have a limited supply of strength to power it.  That interplay...that choice of when to eat damage early in order to take out the worst baddy with missiles and then finish off the battle with melee weapons, or when to blow a ton of strength on a big ass magic spell is key to keeping T&T from being just an exercise in rolling dice.

I'm thinking Poison'd could benefit from something along those lines.  Not necessarily the same system but some choices the players can make before rolling the dice that affect the way the results are read could go along way.  Maybe something like "Skulking the Back" lets you use your successes to cancel enemy "Xs" but not towards winning the fight, while "Bloodcurdling Charge" lets double your successes but have some other limit. 

Anyway.  That was my playtest report from Gen Con.  Only one session so its based on limited data points, but we only had a few minutes to discuss there.



Are the X's put next to completed ambitions spendable X's?  Or is this just a symbol to indicate completion?


I'm like, I know, I'll have them mark Xs next to everything, and also separately and unrelatedly use Xs for currency! That won't confuse anybody.

So, yeah. My fault. Those aren't spendable Xs, they're just to mark that you've accomplished it.



So Ralph, mostly what I'm doing with your terrific post is thinking about it. I do have one answer though: I figure that striking a bargain will work on, oh, nine out ten malcontent-happy players, and marooning will work on the rest.


Jiri Petru

Hello, everybody. First of all, Vincent, thanks for the awesome game! Now to the topic...

(Sorry if my english is a bit awkard. There used to be a spellcheck button here, but I can't find it now. That means the following text will be horrible. Sorry.)

Quote from: ValamirThe escalation for ship pursuit makes huge amounts of game mechanical sense, but unfortunately not much story sense.  "Captain we're just not fast enough to get within cannon range of her"..."Ok, bring us up along side then".
The escalation of ship pursuit makes perfect sence to me. It took me some time until I managed to understand it, but I think I do now. It seems clever:

You see, in order to shoot cannons at somebody who's running from you, you have to turn your ship to one side. You cannon just go straight to them and shoot - so shooting actually makes you slower. Aside of that, cannons need men to operate them, men who could instead be working the sail - another hindrance. So what you do when you realise you are too slow? (1) You'll go straight after your prize, no turning. And you cannon shoot cannons from your bow. (2) You'll send the men from cannons to sails. No shooting at all.

The other ship will try to run. When you get too close, they realise they can't get away and turn to fight you. At this time, you are probably very close to each other. Don't forget you have all your men on sails, nobody manning the guns. And your ship is closing to the targer very fast. When you get ready to shoot, you'll alteady be broadside to broadside.

Now I know this is a bit exxagerated, but when you think of it, it isn't that much of an nonsense.


Other reactions and ideas, in no order at all.

(1) I for myself like the open enden nature of the game and the cruel fortunes. I wouldn't like it that much if everything was bound by mechanics. Although some of the fortunes might deserve some work, I dare to disagree with Valamir's proposal to make it more rules-heavy.

(2) The fighting system seems suitable for more than, you know, fighting. I plan to make my players "fight" with other difficulties. Imagine the ships are fighing cannon range, and I give players a chance to make some succes rolls ("Cannonballs are tearing your ship apart. Everyone, roll to endure the duress."). If someone loses, I can imagine a "fight" against a bullet wound (Dogs in the Vineyard style!). Or maybe if a player fails, he falls off the ship and I'll make him "fight" to get back aboard. I guess It would be a modified knife to knife or sword to sword. Vincent, maybe you could consider writing something about these variants of figts, as in Dogs?

(3) I'm preparing for the game, and I'm making up some bangs to drive pirates' ambitions forward. Anyone got any experience with bangs in this game, or do you simply play the cruel fortunes and let the players do the rest?

(4) Are there any actual play reports I can take some inspiration from? I've browsed the Actual Play section and found only one, which seems to more like a preview of Poisond. Are there any others?

(5) One of my players took these three ambitionsf: to spit in the eye of God, to spit in the eye of the devil, to live forever. I have absolutely no idea how to make some bangs for these. Anyone got any experience with them?

(6) It would be great if there were more Cruel Fortunes available - they are an amazing part of the game. How about t make a topic where people can post their ideas for new cruel fortunes? Somebody proposed a fortune to reflect dead men. I've already incorporated it to my set, naming it "Dead & Wounded". It reads almost the same as "Wear & Breakage". "A few dead" means on card of Dead and Wounded (Profile loss of 1). "Many dead" means two cards of Dead and Wounded (Profile loss of 2). I can't find the source now, but thanks for the idea nonetheless. Maybe the rules for Leisure could have a line saying: "Spend 1 to hire new crewmembers at port. Remove one "Dead & Wounded" card."

(7) I have a weakness for pictures. Does anyone know a good source of some good ship pictures? I've found these and these.

That's it for now. Maybe I'll post some more ideas later.

Oh, by the way, I haven't played the game yet, so maybe I change my oppinions tommorow, after our game. I'll try to post something about our experiences.

Thanks again and see ya!


Jiri Petru

Damn, there's no edit button. Sorry for the double post and sorry for the mistakes in the previous one.

(8) I had to make a czech translation for my group (I'm actually much better in understanding english than writing it). Vincent, would you like to put in on your website as an extra download for everyone who bought the original PDF?

(9) What exactly means "damnation"?. I understand the word, but not the game or story consequences of it. I supposed it means being damned by god himself (?). If so, should the "Accursing" cruel fortune be rather "Damnation"? It would make bigger sense to me, because damnation is the thing that could affect a whole ship. Curses - at least in my group - tend to be more personal. For example one character was cursed by a rape victim: "May your dick rot". This isn't a thing that could effect a whole ship ;)


Quote from: lumpley on August 27, 2007, 03:49:51 PM
So Ralph, mostly what I'm doing with your terrific post is thinking about it. I do have one answer though: I figure that striking a bargain will work on, oh, nine out ten malcontent-happy players, and marooning will work on the rest.


Please expand.  With just 1 short con session where we were learning as we go, we didn't get to touch much on bargains and how they're entered.

Jiri Petru


This games rocks. We've just ended our first session, and we all enjoyed it. We learned the rules quite fast, and the system really seems to do it's job well. However, I am a bit confused by group fight.

So in our session, the crew got into a clash with a company of redcoats. I used the "Soldiers" fortune, created the company and its commander, and then... I realised I have absolutelly no idea how to resolve it. The skirmish was "company to company", sure. But neither the company, nor the crew have any Brinkmanship. I've reread the rules for "fighting for a side", but they didn't make any sense to me - they seem to speak about individials in big fights, not about the big fights themselves. In the whole book, there was not a single word about group fights.

We resolved it somehow, but only after the game I suddenly understood what the text means (i think). So - groups or crews have no Brinkmanship, because they use the Brinkmanship of their leader, right? And the dice for the group's Brinkmanship are divided between all the players, right? (no dividing on NPC'c side) So all the players get to decide whether they want to help, or not (thus lowering the Brinkmanship of their whole group), right? If so, then:

(10) What happens when one side has no leader? What is the group's Brinkmanship? That happened tu us, since we haven't chosen the captain yet.

(11) What happens when I kill the leader, or put him out of fight? Putting out of fight costs only 1 X, and it is almost certain that at least one of the players can do it. Leaders don't seem to have any chance to stay in the fight.

(12) After comparing the both sides' Profiles, I got two Xs. Players had more than 10 Xs together. Can players spend their Xs to help their side (for example to buy new dice?). If yes, this hardly seems fair, the fight was over before it began. In not, then what are the Xs good for in group fights?

(13) What do the player pirates do in group fights? Do we simply incorporate them in the descriptions and nothing else? Do they get their own personal fights (sword to sword, for example)?

The same questions would be for shipfights, I guess. Only we didn't have a shipfight yet.

Thanks. I think I'll wait for answers now.


Okay, let's see what I can answer.

Ralph: whenever your character enters into any kind of agreement with another, that other player lists it on her character sheet. Like, "Wee Billy promised to stop inciting the company to malcontent." Until Wee Billy makes good (and a promise like that seems pretty open-ended to me), you can withhold Wee Billy's Soul from any one roll his player makes. The game gives bargains mechanical leverage.

The only trick, then, is getting Wee Billy to make that promise. I bet you can find something he'll accept in return, especially given that a) malcontent is bad for everybody, not just the captain and b) you can always drop him off on a barren island if you're sick of him.


2) I don't recommend it. Those are opportunities for success rolls! Save fighting for fights.

3) Don't plan bangs. Limit yourself to the cruel fortunes.

4) I just posted an actual play report. There's another here. I hope there'll be more soon - post yours!

5) Not your problem. If someone lists "spit in the eye of God" on their character sheet, it's theirs to undertake. Spitting in the eye of God or living forever - those won't be easy, but there they are.

(Also remember that giving up an ambition has as much mechanical oomph as fulfilling one.)

6) Dead & Wounded is fine. It didn't quite make it into the rules that you should treat Profile as responsively as the other stats - I haven't been using a cruel fortune like dead & wounded because I've just dropped the company's profile when they lose a fight.

I'm cautiously open to new cruel fortunes, case by case.

8) Cool! Email it to me at lumpley at gmail dot com.

9) Funny. I think of it as the reverse: having one accursed person on board brings bad luck to the whole ship, where damnation may not bring bad luck at all, but even if it does, it's personal.

You saw Master and Commander? The Jonas midshipman inspired Poison'd's accursing.

10) Good catch, that rule didn't make it into the text. When a ship or company has no captain, it's easy prey for another ship or company, and comes under its control. Individual members can fight individually, but that's it.

11) Until I work that out for myself, I think the best thing is to just exclude the captain from that option.

Taking a named individual out of a fight is meant to have personal, in-fiction consequences, not tactical consequences. It's not meant to short-circuit the fighting rules. Until your pirates have grudges with other individual sailors and soldiers, I wouldn't expect them to use that option.

12) Your best bet is to totally outclass them Profile-wise, or else to bring the fight sooner.

13) They get to contribute or withhold dice - see the section called "fighting on a side."

I'm glad you enjoyed the game!



When a character bargains with God or the Devil, does the GM get to withhold dice from his rolls?
With regards,
Skjalg Kreutzer


With the Devil, yes. With God, no - instead of withholding dice, God inflicts damnation upon the character.

What if the character's already damned? I dunno.

Oh hey, it's not in the rules, but how about this: if the character's already damned, then God can put any cruel fortune into play that He wants.



Quote10) Good catch, that rule didn't make it into the text. When a ship or company has no captain, it's easy prey for another ship or company, and comes under its control. Individual members can fight individually, but that's it.

Wait, really?  So if I get three Xs, I autowin against a group if I take out it's commander?  This seems.... cheap.  Both in the 'broken' sense, and in the 'unsatisfying' sense.


Willow, check out number 11:

"11) Until I work that out for myself, I think the best thing is to just exclude the captain from that option.

Taking a named individual out of a fight is meant to have personal, in-fiction consequences, not tactical consequences. It's not meant to short-circuit the fighting rules. Until your pirates have grudges with other individual sailors and soldiers, I wouldn't expect them to use that option."