Twin Cities playtest

  • 9 Replies
Twin Cities playtest
« on: September 19, 2014, 12:03:53 PM »
We had 3 players + MC (me). The players knew each other to varying degrees, but I was actually new to the crowd. However, we all had a lot of PBTA experience, and it wasn’t hard to get in a common groove.

I enjoyed the experience and I think they did too—at least we agreed to come back next week and continue.

I had read the whole packet once and all the instructions and generic moves a second time, although I always find it hard to just read playbooks and process them. My eyes kind of start to glaze over after  reading 5 or 6 playbook moves. I never really ‘get’ all the options for a playbook in any game until I play or GM for that book in play. One player had seen the ‘pre-alpha’ version and drew on that knowledge to help us clarify some conceptual things, like ‘people.’ (He drew some Venn diagrams at one point.)

I had printed out everything and made multiple copies of the things I thought I would need multiple copies of. The one thing I missed was not printing extra copies of the instructions for making a people. That was the one sheet we sometimes had to wait on. Therefore, I’d suggest making a people sheet that includes those instructions right on it.

I don’t know that the players paid any attention to the different people sheets or formed an opinion. At first I thought I wanted the one that had the section for war company info on it, but then I ended up transferring all of that to a war company sheet. So probably the most useful versions for me so far (in different situations) were the one with “notables” at the bottom and the one that just let you get two peoples on the same sheet.

Building the holding presented no serious difficulties. (Note: the instructions call it “holding” but the sheet calls it “stronghold.”) We did puzzle briefly over the armory options with two circles, but quickly decided those things just had a higher “cost.” One player said that the improvement items were connected to a playbook move, which due to eye-glaze I just accepted as true. I still don’t know under what circumstances a “want” might be marked, or why they have 2 circles (though I have a guess about that).

We built an island, threatened by sea-raiders and a wrongful ruler. Building the dominant people (a “vassalage”) wasn’t difficult, and the name lists were appreciated. We did have to keep reminding ourselves that the dominant people weren’t necessarily the only people, which meant our sense of how big the total population was stayed fuzzy.

Players dove right into sorting through the playbooks like the old pros they are. At one point: “We don’t want to have all of them based on Weird.” This less to some negotiation, easily resolved with “It’s an Apocalypse World game; I’ll have fun no matter what I play.” Ended up with Keep Liege, Court Wizard, Outranger.

Note: several of us were struck in a positive way by the outranger’s “step out of your earthly life” move, which we felt added some magic/weirdness/surprise to an otherwise fairly archetypal character. So that was popular with us—please don’t remove it!

I didn’t bring up co-MCing. I felt like I had enough to attend to with getting enemies made and keeping half an eye on the PCs, even though the players had few questions during creation.

The “anyone can make a people anytime” was cool and had a couple of interesting effects due to coincidence:

The outranger, though one of the islanders by race, had been raised and traveled with a different people, some sailors. He made them “golden creamy” and Hebrew. Meanwhile, not knowing any of that, I made the sea raider enemy: golden creamy and Arabic. So the island’s enemy and the outranger’s adoptive culture are easily mistaken for each other.

Similarly, the keep liege was of a different people than the islanders, one that traces its lineage more directly back to the empire of eagles. He gave that people suspicion of sorcery, and I (again unknowing) gave it to the people of the false ruler on the mainland. That similarity was cool.

On the question of whether I had enough to start playing, I would say yes, but just barely. It helped that we’d named enemies of the holding. But two of the season moves didn’t have much teeth. The liege did hearth and got himself a baby boy, and the wizard did rites and ceremonies (to insure the birth went well, he said). Both very genre-appropriate, but not a lot of edge there for me to latch onto in the moment. Fortunately, the outranger had been traveling and brought back news that the bad ruler was trying to make an alliance with the sea-raiders. That got his character started. Once that was moving, I brought in a representative of the bad ruler to congratulate on the birth and threaten with takeover.

So yes, we had enough, we got started—but I did feel relief when the outranger’s season move explicitly gave me an opening for some bad news.

Play went pretty smoothly from then on. As I reflected this week and imagined where we might go, I realized that this game doesn’t really have something like Act Under Fire / Defy Danger, unless “Undertake Great Labor” is supposed to be that. I was imagining a possible threatening situation that a PC might (if it happened) try to resist/get out of—and wasn’t sure what move that would be, if any.

A good moment came when the representative of the bad guy got thrown out by the keep liege. I realized that the court wizard hadn’t been involved much yet.

Me (to court wizard): There’s something weird about this guy, something other-worldly.
Court wizard (to keep liege): He’s possessed.

He then did “consult other world” for confirmation, but I totally took his statement and ran with it, and it drove a lot of what followed.

Moves we rolled during play: take stock, single combat (almost did it wrong but fortunately the player read it more carefully than me and saw what to do on a tie for position: that was a fun little mini-game for me as mc), the wizard’s demon/spirit move, consult other world, win someone over, and size someone up (on NPCs and once PC-on-PC, the latter went so smoothly I ignored it and went to talk to another player)

Handing out experience went fine. Because of a season move at the start, the court wizard levelled up and took healing (which the keep liege could already use due to the single combat)

Other notes and questions I jotted down:

I liked the “use your moves to” list for MCs.

Naming peoples was tough, for me at least. Any help or advice there would be useful.

My hardest/most confusing was building a war company, in several ways:
* It appears that selecting “specials” and armaments are just arbitrary, well really that the whole thing is arbitrary. This had me worried about unintentionally making an opponent that is too overwhelming or not really a threat at all.
* If a war company is made up of mixed groups, then the sheet says to use the highest war value, but what about different harm/armor values? I never did figure out how harm is supposed to combine.
* I was also unsure about the size of the war company. I could just take from the warrior numbers of the peoples represented, but picking those is arbitrary too, and since the PCs had picked the largest possible size, I felt like I had to pick the same to make them comparable, and I wondered if that was weird.

So I didn’t feel very confident about that part, but I did it—haven’t gotten to actual battle yet though.

Someone said “I like the experience system.” I agree, although I did notice it doesn’t provide (much) in-game incentivizing. You don’t have highlighted stats or anything. That’s not a complaint—just an observation.

Didn’t talk about it with the group, but I missed having explicit Hx or bonds or that sort of thing. The group quickly sorted those out, as they were generally a cooperative bunch, and by giving the outranger news that would be of interest to the other two, that bridged the one gap quickly. But I noticed their absence.

We initially had a question about what “a right of your own” meant, but we found it with some looking.

One question did come up in the single combat scene. We tied on position on the first pass, so then we took the 3 additional points and went again, which led to a situation where the NPC had taken 5 total harm. When I said that, the PC responded “I didn’t want to kill him!” So we left him hanging on to life, just barely—but I don’t know if I was ‘cheating.’ Can you not kill someone if you want? Or is the only thing you can do is not put any points toward harm and hope to win position before you kill them?

More after next session.



  • 1293
Re: Twin Cities playtest
« Reply #1 on: September 19, 2014, 12:30:21 PM »
Excellent, thank you!

For goodness sake, if you don't want to kill someone, don't spend toward killing them.


Re: Twin Cities playtest
« Reply #2 on: September 19, 2014, 01:42:41 PM »
It was a fun game!

I am curious about the intention of the double-circled options in the stronghold's armory, though.  Can those be bought at the one-circle level (like for 20 fighters) or the two-circle level or is it supposed to be as we ended up interpretting it, it just costs double?

It did seem funny when I turned out to be the only PC that was a member of the "local" people created first as a part of the stronghold.  Is it seeming typical for players to frequently just make up their own peoples?

Re: Twin Cities playtest
« Reply #3 on: September 20, 2014, 02:38:51 PM »
I was the keep liege.  In regards to trying to capture that guy, I only ever spent for armor and position.  Now that I think of it, maybe we did things wrong, so I have 2 alternatives to present:
1) (the way we did it in game)
  a) roll dice to determine available points
  b) allocate points
  c) assign harm
  d) check for victory
    i) if tied, assign 3 more points
   ii) assign harm
  iii) check for victory

2) (the way I think maybe we should have done it)
  a) roll dice to determine available points
  b) allocate points
  c) check for victory
    i) while tied, assign 3 more points, continue until no longer tied
  d) assign harm

I think the reason he would have died is that he got harm assigned twice off of 1 roll

Re: Twin Cities playtest
« Reply #4 on: September 20, 2014, 04:06:17 PM »
I believe you did it right. If you didn't want to risk his death you could have dropped your weapon. Unarmed does zero harm.
There is some things after life. It's called death.

Re: Twin Cities playtest
« Reply #5 on: September 23, 2014, 10:50:18 AM »
Session 2, including battle!

We played again last night, and again had fun. Might have one more session depending on people's availability.

New moves rolled/used last night:
Season moves: travel, enchantment*, recovery, rites & celebration
Step out of your earthly life (failure, ha!)
Muster warriors
Call on another's aid
Leap into action
Harass enemy
Ask for their judgment
Prepare for what's coming

Questions, notes, and comments in no particular order:

I started to wonder if the season moves list is too small, although the second time we ended a season 2/3 players immediately said "I know what I'm doing" and the third had no trouble. Should mustering warriors be available as a season move?

Also, we kept confusing ourselves as to whether the 'people' moves were intended to be season moves. We kept deciding they were just listed on the same sheet, but 'prepare for what's to come,' especially seemed like it certainly could occupy "the rest of the season."

Related, we ruled that an enchantment that "takes the rest of the season" means you do it in lieu of a season move.

Do NPCs get to heal when a season ends? Automatic? Judgment call? As the story dictates?

We did our first battle. It was fun to pick the options, and that marked the first time I had rolled dice as MC. And I liked how damage and victory were interconnected but still separate. In our case, the PCs' side won the initial exchange, driving the enemy into confusion, but took more damage.

We didn't count the losses until after the whole battle was over. But just now it occurs to me that maybe we should have calculated that after the first exchange, to see if the numbers had changed the ratios and therefore harm and armor.

We puzzled a bit over how to make the battle rules fit with fortifications and tactical situation. Those are factored into the harm calculation, but for example we had an attacking "bad guy" force with cavalry, taking on the PCs' stronghold. We then were confused for a while about what kind of fortifications they really had, but looking at the stronghold sheet and noting what they hadn't chosen, we decided they just had "simple walls" etc. But if they'd had, say, a drawbridge and stronger defenses of the sort that cavalry can't really penetrate, then what? Cavalry loses their bonus? Or has to wait for something to happen to make it available? (If so, what?) Personally, I feel really confused about how the battle rules are supposed to interface with the story around fortifications. For 2 companies meeting in an open field, I would feel more confident.

If a war company has only bows, do they have no harm rating? (They are not listed on the war company sheet, except as the special "archers" move.)

If you're in a battle, do you have to roll "fight in company"? Can you just try to keep yourself safe?
(Although the court wizard's player analyzed the move and determined that even on a miss, you can avoid taking damage, so he thought of it as no risk.)

Just saw in another thread that the war leader doesn't roll fight in company, but we did. Otherwise, the war leader can't get hurt at all (right? or does war leader automatically take damage like the company does?). And our war leader ended up separated from the company, so someone else took over, which was interesting for story reasons. (Plus fun for players to try different things.)

The players had a little debate over whether the 'harassing the enemy' move was worth doing. They did end up trying it. I then found it confusing for how to calculate harm in that instance.

There doesn't appear to be a retreat option.

Counting the fallen was confusing. I mean, I understood what it was saying, but I had to keep looking back and forth between the "what to expect" lists and the list of questions (and they don't correspond one-to-one) and translate words like "many" and "some" into numbers, making sure that the ultimate total wasn't more than the company total. I managed to do it, but I either wanted more concrete guidance (like giving me "1/3 will be killed, give or take") or less specifics that I had to come up with.

I'm wondering how long warriors stay mustered for. Indefinitely? Until a season changes? Other?

We still don't have a clear sense of the total population of our island, or the people under the liege's authority. One player suggested that it might be better to start out establishing a total population, and then as 'people' are defined, they clarify the demographics of that population.

At end of session, the other two PCs got advances. Keep liege took +1 bold from war (I think), and outranger took the interesting 'twin soul' or guardian soul thing from the Wider World.

NOTE: that move appears to have a typo. It says that both 10+ and 7-9 yield 2 hold. I'm assuming 10+ should be 3.

Dark Age is certainly not my strongest genre, personally. And last night after we were done (and the players wanted more, and were asking about finding other times and maybe bringing more people in) I was feeling mild panic about knowing what to do as things went forward. They beat the sea raiders and some of the tyrant's forces and burned 2 ships. I didn't know what that should mean about how much those enemies were weakened, and for how long. I have clever players, and the mechanics don't automatically threaten their stronghold as much as AW (where a bad session-start roll from a Hardholder or Hocus or even Operator can set things tipping out of control again).

Now, as I've thought further, I've remembered the many loose ends, and the tyrant is still out there, and even if he were killed or deposed others will step in. And maybe all will be fine. But I did have that moment of uncertainty about it.

Players, please leap in with other things you noticed or your perspectives.

Re: Twin Cities playtest
« Reply #6 on: September 23, 2014, 12:29:07 PM »
If a war company has only bows, do they have no harm rating? (They are not listed on the war company sheet, except as the special "archers" move.)


I had the very same situation... I make the assumption that they have at least some knives or clubs to defend themselves in a worst case and set harm to (2/4) (IE 2 in close and 4 at range) as a best guess...

- Alex

Re: Twin Cities playtest
« Reply #7 on: September 23, 2014, 12:47:41 PM »
Players, please leap in with other things you noticed or your perspectives.

well since you asked

For the Peoples moves, I believe Prepare For What's Coming is explicitly a season move and Billet Your Company can be both season and not season.

You are explicitly not supposed to Count the Fallen, once battle is joined(either side leads an attack) until it is over. You may count the fallen after Harassing, Per Vincent in the battles thread, and I am taking that ruling to mean at another narratively appropriate moment when neither side Presses the Attack. So, I would not count the fallen if either side takes a quick break to try something clever. For example, the allied war leader picks maneuver into a new position, and says he brings his troops to the top of a nearby hill. MC says this gives him +1 harm and +1 armor. The pursuing force decides not to follow but instead bring forth the archers to harass. MC calls this regrouping, saying the enemy war leader will have to rearrange troops in the war company to reflect this. This gives initiative to the allied war leader, who Leads an Attack charging into the archers from above.

If however there were a longer break, I would call for Count the Fallen. The allied war leader instead maneuvers across the bridge. Again the MC gives +1 Armor and Harm as it narrows the passage the enemy can attack on. The enemy war leader again calls for archers to the same result. The Allied war leader tells his men to begin preparing defenses for incoming missile attacks. The battle may still be going on, but there is a longer break now. I would call for Count the Fallen here.

I don't have a concrete answer for how Calvary interact with walls, but I would personally say yes, if you can't bring your advantage to bear narratively, you should not get it mechanically. I think I may add in my games that in order to use the archery bonus, for example, the war company must either have no forces in melee or risk harming their own troops. Not sure how I would handle it mechanically yet, but something like adding an additional option to attack and defense if the archery option is used.

I would say a war company armed with only bows still has 3 harm. A bow makes a mighty fine club.

Your court wizard is wrong as one of my players found out. I twice had the opposing war company strike him directly and he almost died. I believe I did the numbers wrong as well, and that he should have died. Your war leader is also at risk from this maneuver.

For harass, if you choose to inflict harm, they simply inflict the war parties harm. Skirmishers might exchange harm depending on the narrative, but archers would not (unless firing at other archers)

Retreating can be accomplished via the Come Under Attack maneuver options and the Avoiding Battle. I would say that based on the Harassing Your Enemy move, the MC would be within his rights to call for an Undertake Great Labor using the companies war, if he thought retreat may not be easily accomplished.

I would guess warriors stay mustered until you can no longer billet them.
There is some things after life. It's called death.

Re: Twin Cities playtest
« Reply #8 on: September 24, 2014, 08:21:04 AM »
Forgot to mention that a couple of times I was looking around for a move that would cover someone trying to trick or fool someone and couldn't find a match.

Re: Twin Cities playtest
« Reply #9 on: September 24, 2014, 08:28:14 AM »
Perhaps win someone over or size someone up? Ask the question, would you believe X? Or what can I say to get you to believe x?
There is some things after life. It's called death.