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[Standing Up] Unify, Divide

Started by Simon_Pettersson, September 14, 2009, 10:58:15 AM

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I'm not sure what kind of response I'm looking for in this thread, but the forum description said to write about your playtesting experiences, so I did!

So I was playtesting the second version of my post apocalyptic game. The game's in swedish, but the titles translate to "Standing Up" (or alternatively "Getting Back Up"), which refers to both standing up after being beaten down and standing up to injustice, as well as standing up as a modern, civilized human being as opposed to a caveman.

Here's the pitch for the game: It's just a couple of years after the apocalypse. Human civilization has been destroyed, but a number of people are trying to rebuild. With no infrastructure left, no luxuries, no computers, humanity's true face shows itself. The game is about three things. First: When all the things we've built up over the centuries come crumbling down, are we still civilized people? Or were we just dressed-up monkeys all this time? Second: It's about people whose lives have been shattered, trying to find a way to heal themselves. Their lives can never be the same, but hopefully they can get a new life and avoid succumbing to despair and rage. Third: It's a political game. The PCs are important people in the society and each session is about a political issue in the community that has to be solved. This part is sort of like Dogs in the Vineyard, except you're staying in the same town and new problems keep cropping up, and it's about politics, not religion (yeah, Dogs is kinda about politics, but whatever).

So, the playtest: First off, creating a village. The players wanted a community that had been around for a while, so the population was 500 people, 80% of which were mutants. Village creation is based on coming up with Attitudes, Rules and Objects in the village, as well as drawing a crude map to be filled out during play. With Attitudes like Apartheid and Rules like Curfew, it was clear that we had a segregated community. Me, being the GM, saw at once the political issue to be the basis of the first session: segregation/racism.

Next: creating the characters. Here's the thing: characters in Standing Up start by getting a description of what they were like before the apocalypse. This is because I want to get some flashback scenes to contextualize, comparing their lives before and after the apocalypse, as well as getting some interesting relationships with people they knew back then. Imagine seeing the leader of the radiers and realizing it's your secretary! However, I completely forgot about this part of the game, being absorbed in testing out the other aspects, so there were no flashback scenes at all.

Characters in Standing Up are defined by four traits at creation (this can change later in the game): One Civilized and one Uncivilized (this is to make sure they get a nice Premise-adressing struggle between civilization and savagery), one Power Base (that is, a reason the people of the community look up to her, so that the characters are able and expected to solve the political issues) and one Relationship (to get them involved on a personal level and not just a political one). They can also start the game with an Object, if they so choose. The characters were:

George Adams
Player: Kim
Civilized: [Can't remember, don't have the sheets here]
Uncivilized: American right-wing christian (the apocalypse if the gays' fault).
Power Base: Spiritual leader
Relationship: Severin, the lawman

Player: Giovanni
Civilized: Sense of law and order
Uncivilized: Alcoholic
Power Base: Lawman (as in writes the laws, not enforces the laws)
Relationship: Daughter Lovisa, 7 years old
Object: Gun

Player: Youcef
Civilized: Sense of tact
Uncivilized: Quick to anger
Power Base: Gatekeeper
Relationship: Philip, the handyman
Object: The keys to the city

All of these traits had values attached, but they change during play, so I can't remember what they were. You might notice that Severin has a Civilized trait that is very similar to his Power Base trait, and the same goes for Sparre's Power Base and Object. This might be something to avoid in the future.

Start the game already!

Here's a brief overview of the action. The game starts the night before the harvest festival, when segregation is less severe and muties and humans celebrate the harvest together. It's time for Sparre to lock the gates and the curfew is in effect. Severin returns home and finds his daughter missing! He's beside himself and goes out to check her friends' house. Some investigation revelas that she'd been playing with a mutant friend of hers over by the separation wall. He's forced to abandon the search, however, when he encounters a militiaman who tells him to return to his house as it's past curfew.

The next day Lovisa returns. She'd been playing with Herman, her mutie friend, and stayed the night at his house. This upsets Sparre to no end. He doesn't think muties and humans should cavort openly like that. He and his buddies have been drinking a bit to start the harvest festival, so they find themselves a mutie to harrass. They find none other than Fritz, Herman's father. Things get a bit out of hand and Frit's gets two of his arms broken (ha has four). He defends himself and the gang wants to hang him. The pastor intervenes, however, and the hanging is aborted.

Here I got a great chance to try out the conflict mechanics, and they worked wondrously. The basics are quite simple: you roll a bunch of D6s, an equal number to the value of the Trait you're using. You get to keep the 4+ ones, the ones go in a separate pile and the 2s and 3s are discarded. The parties involved in the conflict take turns rolling the dice they have left until someone rolls no 4+ and thus loses the conflict. More dice are brought in by using new traits, traits in the village (the Attitudes, Rules and Objects created in the beginning) or by getting help from others. There's a bit of gambling involved in when to add your new dice. You want to add them as late as possible, but every roll runs the risk of failing. If you wait until you only have one die left, you might be out of the conflict before you get the chance. On the other hand, if you add all of your dice at once, they're gonna run out very quickly.

After the conflict, the winner looks at the number of dice she has left. This many points she gets to add to or subtract from any trait in the village, including removing traits and creating new ones. You also look at the pools of ones created. The one with the least number of ones gets to change the character. So if the player had more ones than the GM, the GM gets to change the character's traits. If the GM had more ones, the player gets to change his own character. This has the effect that if you go up against weaker opponents or keep bringing in new traits into the conflict, the GM will get to change your character, and you'll likely drift towards the savage side. If you fight against a stronger opponent, you basically get experience, so you can change your own traits. All of this worked beautifully in play.

Youcef was pushing his racist character Sparre hard and he was going downhill fast. His civilized trait atrophied and his Uncivilized one was growing.

Back to the game: Sparre and his militia arrested Fritz on assault charges. The trial was a sham and the mutie lawyer didn't even get to speak, as he was booed loudly (he failed the conflict on the first roll). The lawman Severin condemned Fritz to be put in a cage in the plaza for three days, but the priest managed to convince him to delay the punishment until after the festival. However, the mutant had to be kept in chains until then.

Another cool thing about the mechanics was that the players could see the "Mutant resistance" trait in town grow every time they lost a conflict. This was cool, as you got a feeling thing were getting out of hand without anything yet having been seen in the fiction. Sort of the same role that dramatic music can serve in a movie scene.

By now the mutants were furious. They retreated to the other side of the radioactive river, bringing the harvest with them, and barricaded the bridge. They demanded Fritz be let go, at which point Sparre coldly pushed him into the river, where he drowned, weighted down by the chains. The mutants tried to grab Sparre, but his cronies had brought the old machine gun from the gate and fired into the mutie crowd, killing men, women and children indiscriminately. This conflict demanded a hell of a lot of traits brought in by Youcef, as even the lawman opposed him when he saw his daughter in the crowd of mutants. As a result, I got to change his traits pretty well. I drove his relationship with Philip down to zero and his friend abandoned him in this moment. That was pretty strong.

Even stronger was the scene where Lovisa sat crying by her now dead friend Herman and looked at her father on the other side of the river. Tears streaming down her cheeks, she screamed "I hate you!" and ran off, following the mutants who were fleeing into the woods.

When George saw what Sparre was doing, he was horrified. He started to gather up the congregation and told them they would leave this town, never to come back. However, he lost the argument (or rather, he caved in) against a man yelling that they weren't the ones who should leave. Rather, it was Sparre and his cronies that should be driven out. They go out to the woods to persuade the mutants to join the cause and return to the village. It's difficult, but once they promise the wall of separation between the mutant and human parts of the village will be torn down, the mutants agree. An epic battle ensues, but with Sparre barricaded and in posession of the machine gun, they cannot be driven out. In the end, the attackers burn the bridge over the river and Sparre gets a small community to himself, while the rest of them reform the village, though with an uneasy eye towards the forming police state on the other side of the river.

The final scene was Severin trying to reconnect with and be forgiven by his daughter. She was hesitant to forgive him, but when he finally broke down crying, she relented and gave him a hug. The end.

I liked how the three characters addressed the Premise of Civilization vs. Savagery differently. George the priest never relly engaged in his conservative gaybashing uncivilized side (probably because the other two were quite savage in the beginning) but remained a voice of reason throughout the session. Sparre went the opposite way, going down the drain quickly. Severin started out as a bigott, but was converted by the innocence and love of his daughter.

I'm quite pleased by how the mechanics worked out. There's a dial for deciding how fast characters change through conflicts, which I think will be great for games of different lengths and pacing. Since the mechanics worked so well (though more testing might be required), I can now turn to the task of building a structure for making good issues and for converting real political issues relevant to the players into suitable issues for play. I will also try using flashback scenes to make interesting contrasts between life before and after the apocalypse. My hope here is that characters can be symbols of people whose lives fall apart and who are trying to build them back up again. I think flashback scenes might help with this, though it's possible they will just get in the way. It will be interesting to find out!

One idea I'm having is to have a scene in the beginning which is a flashback scene in which one character is somehow affected by the political issue that will be the focus of the session. Sort of foreshadowing coupled with contrasting.

So, yeah. I wonder if I'll get any replies to this thread?