Love Letters of Scuzz Town

  • 6 Replies
  • 3854 Views
Love Letters of Scuzz Town
« on: November 25, 2016, 09:06:33 AM »
After a running my first session I'm now gearing up to send out the players' love letters. The first session went well, though I made a few slip-ups and poor choices, so I'd like to start the next session off a little better.

For background, the players are: Saffron, the Maestro'd; Lost Rabbit, the Hocus, Spice Lion, the Skinner; Stinky Baby, the Chopper; and Amiette, the Brainer. The first session involved a raid (apparently) from a rival hardhold, which culminated with the market elders being found beheaded in the main square with weird intoxicating smoke billowing from their necks.

So, without further ado:

Dear Saffron,

The market will be back on it's feet in the morning, but last night's disruption will have messed with your supply lines. Roll +hot to touch base with old suppliers and make new connections. 10+ pick 3, 7-9 pick 2, miss pick 1
-You resupply on coffee and drugs
-Some of your people don't get poached by water-slavers
-You fleece some sucker for 3 barter
-You show your face enough that those scuzzers don't think they can get away with selling the password to your place
-You pick up a hot tip (you get to ask one question from the read a sitch/person list for free at any time).
[That last option I'm not 100% on, but not sure of a better way to portray getting good gossip.


Dear Lost Rabbit,
Well, that was a hell of a party last night and the chaos has opened up some opportunities. Pick whose toes you're stepping on for each of these then roll +weird:
-You fortify the warren [TRADERS or SAFFRON]
-You recruit new students [BABIES or SAFFRON]
-You wrangle 2 barter's worth of booze [BABIES or TRADERS]
On a 10+ pick 1 option that pisses off the group in question, for the rest you talk your way in/out of/around it. On a 7-9 pick 2. On a miss, they're all pissed off.


Dear Spice Lion,

After last night's brush with the biker gang, it's time to work your magic and make some friends. Pick a group: BABIES; TRADERS; THE AUTHORITY; SAFFRON's STAFF and roll +hot. 10+ pick 3, 7-9 pick 2, miss pick 1.
-You Hypnotise an influential member of the group (I'll tell you who) with 2 hold.
-You don't draw attention from that group's enemies
-You ingratiate yourself to the group as a whole, ensuring they will be friendly to you
-You don't piss off the troublemaker of the group
-You get some dirt on another group, which you can use for leverage.
[Spice Lion came from out of town, so I want to get some connections going and setup some triangles]


Dear Stinky Baby,
While the market knits itself back together, you need to get out there and get something to trade. Get 5 barter's worth and roll +hard. 10+ pick 1, 7-9 pick 2, miss pick 3.
-You get shafted by a scuzz trader, get -2 barter
-Happy baby and Slappy baby went and got treatment for their wounds, you owe the local doc 2 barter.
-A victim gets away, now they're out for revenge.
-The water you trade for is Nasty. You and the babies are bleeding from the eyes unless you spend 2 barter on upkeep.
[The Babies (his gang) get by raiding outside town and trading what they get at market. Nasty water is an affliction, but eye-bleeding isn't immediately harmful]

Dear Amiette,
Maybe it was the smoke, maybe it was the bodies, maybe it was the maelstrom, but now you can hear dead people. Specifically, you can use Deep Brain Scan on dead bodies. If the cause of death was beheading, you automatically get 10+.
[Amiette's player won't be able to make it next session, so I figured I'd give them a custom that'd get them excited to come back and use it]

Any feedback is welcome, especially for the slightly more unorthodox structured moves.

Re: Love Letters of Scuzz Town
« Reply #1 on: November 25, 2016, 08:09:31 PM »
After a running my first session I'm now gearing up to send out the players' love letters. The first session went well, though I made a few slip-ups and poor choices, so I'd like to start the next session off a little better.

I admit my first question here would be why you are sending love letters after a single session. Is your intention to do these every session? Did a significant amount of time elapse? Do you want to skip over the immediate consequences of whatever happened last session, or does it feel like not enough things happened, or?

I am significantly less enthused than most MCs seem to be about the love letter technology -- I think that when they're good, they're pretty great, but that they should be deployed sparingly and in particular circumstances. It seems particularly difficult to come up with good love letters after only a single session, since there really isn't that much happening yet, and love letters generally excel at either fast-forwarding existing things to a point of crisis or resolving things that are well-developed but keep falling just outside the scope of an individual session.

But anyways, that's my bias, on to the letters.

Quote
Dear Saffron,

The market will be back on it's feet in the morning, but last night's disruption will have messed with your supply lines. Roll +hot to touch base with old suppliers and make new connections. 10+ pick 3, 7-9 pick 2, miss pick 1
-You resupply on coffee and drugs
-Some of your people don't get poached by water-slavers
-You fleece some sucker for 3 barter
-You show your face enough that those scuzzers don't think they can get away with selling the password to your place
-You pick up a hot tip (you get to ask one question from the read a sitch/person list for free at any time).
[That last option I'm not 100% on, but not sure of a better way to portray getting good gossip.

Well, more bias: I am not a fan of 'avoid a negative consequence that did not exist until I wrote it down as an option on this move' as an option on love letters. But everyone else seems to absolutely love them, so I can only plead for you to at least phrase them as a positive character activity or achievement rather than the passively-voiced suggestion that the hand of fate just randomly decided to spare them.

For example, instead of 'Some of your people don't get poached by water-slavers', something like 'You interrupt some water-slavers trying to poach some of your people.' By making it something the PC actually did in the fiction, you not only are more likely to get interesting consequences out of it -- you could start the session with the scene where the poachers are being interrupted, for example -- but you at least obfuscate the fact that you just made up a way to screw the player and then let them spend their hard-earned currency to stop you from doing it.

(Note that much of my dislike of this form of move does not apply if these are well-established threats -- things you have set up with previous moves and foreshadowing, and the player has consciously left unaddressed. It seems unlikely that this applies after a single session.)

The last option seems fine to me, another version could be 'take 1 forward to read a situation.'

Quote
Dear Lost Rabbit,
Well, that was a hell of a party last night and the chaos has opened up some opportunities. Pick whose toes you're stepping on for each of these then roll +weird:
-You fortify the warren [TRADERS or SAFFRON]
-You recruit new students [BABIES or SAFFRON]
-You wrangle 2 barter's worth of booze [BABIES or TRADERS]
On a 10+ pick 1 option that pisses off the group in question, for the rest you talk your way in/out of/around it. On a 7-9 pick 2. On a miss, they're all pissed off.

I actually just straight up can't figure out what this means, or how this move works. Is Lost Rabbit doing all those things, no matter what? Are they only doing one, that they're picking? When are they picking it? Why are you telling them all the things they are doing in a love letter -- did the player express an intention to do all these things? Aside from the confusion of how it is phrased I feel like this letter is really short on meaningful player choice.

Quote
Dear Spice Lion,

After last night's brush with the biker gang, it's time to work your magic and make some friends. Pick a group: BABIES; TRADERS; THE AUTHORITY; SAFFRON's STAFF and roll +hot. 10+ pick 3, 7-9 pick 2, miss pick 1.
-You Hypnotise an influential member of the group (I'll tell you who) with 2 hold.
-You don't draw attention from that group's enemies
-You ingratiate yourself to the group as a whole, ensuring they will be friendly to you
-You don't piss off the troublemaker of the group
-You get some dirt on another group, which you can use for leverage.
[Spice Lion came from out of town, so I want to get some connections going and setup some triangles]

This seems fine, though again 'you don't do a thing' or 'a thing doesn't happen' never feels like a particularly fun choice to me. These just seem like miss options dressed up as hits -- if I was the player I would basically never choose these options, especially if very little has been established yet about the group in question (does the player even know who the 'enemies' of each group are, at this point? Do you?)

Similarly, the 'on a miss, pick 1' thing for this and the first letter seems kind of meh to me. I would suggest rephrasing/conceptualizing it as something like 'On a miss, pick 1 and I'll tell you how it goes wrong.'

Quote
Dear Stinky Baby,
While the market knits itself back together, you need to get out there and get something to trade. Get 5 barter's worth and roll +hard. 10+ pick 1, 7-9 pick 2, miss pick 3.
-You get shafted by a scuzz trader, get -2 barter
-Happy baby and Slappy baby went and got treatment for their wounds, you owe the local doc 2 barter.
-A victim gets away, now they're out for revenge.
-The water you trade for is Nasty. You and the babies are bleeding from the eyes unless you spend 2 barter on upkeep.
[The Babies (his gang) get by raiding outside town and trading what they get at market. Nasty water is an affliction, but eye-bleeding isn't immediately harmful]

Barter seems to be much more relevant in the new edition, so can't really comment on this other than to say that the barter parts of these choices seem the least interesting. Luckily most of the options are solid enough choices on their own -- though the player is presumably guaranteed to pick the option where his gang members get medical attention before the one where he just straight up loses 2 barter. I would suggest adding something to the 'you get shafted' option -- a potential upside, or just interesting apocalyptica that makes it seem like a cooler option.

Quote
Dear Amiette,
Maybe it was the smoke, maybe it was the bodies, maybe it was the maelstrom, but now you can hear dead people. Specifically, you can use Deep Brain Scan on dead bodies. If the cause of death was beheading, you automatically get 10+.
[Amiette's player won't be able to make it next session, so I figured I'd give them a custom that'd get them excited to come back and use it]

Interesting option -- do we know, at least, that Amiette's player is interested in Amiette being able to scan dead bodies? This seems to potentially imply a lot about the Maelstrom and the PC's relation with it in particular, depending on how much has been established so far. Otherwise, sounds neat.

Re: Love Letters of Scuzz Town
« Reply #2 on: November 26, 2016, 08:18:26 AM »
You know, I had just assumed love letters were a given between sessions. Our sessions are also about a month apart, so I suppose I'm anxious about keeping the players' interest (all of whom are new to ttrpgs).

My takeaway is that I should be giving the players more agency. While most (Saffron being the exception) are based on the players' intentions in the 1st session, I suppose it would be better talk it over with them at the start of the 2nd session? Maybe have them make some broad moves to set up the scene, rather than railroad choices with the letters?

*

Ebok

  • 415
Re: Love Letters of Scuzz Town
« Reply #3 on: November 26, 2016, 09:53:33 AM »
In a game where people are playing weekly, and someone misses a week: you can help rocket them into things that they missed by giving them a love letter that provides them the agency to do things important to them. If however, everyone is on the same page, it's best to just ask the players at the start of a session what they've done between then and now. Use their start of session moves, or gig's to cover the weirdness and get them into interesting things.

If you are afraid interest has dropped, and no body remembers what they were doing in the last time you played, love letters are one possible way to get everyone motivated again. They're not to be over done however, and if it was the first session before, I think a lot of things might not be mature enough in the narrative for the letters. Maybe! You know your players better then we do, and when it all boils down to it, it's important that you keep them interested and make sure they're having fun.

My suggestion would be to call / get together with them and talk about what everyone remembers from the first session. Gauge whether they're excited about the next, see if you cant stir their interest, or get them talking about it first. If everyone is struggling to remember, love letters might help jog their memories after all. Feel things out.

Of the ones you've shared: I'm not sure. In your case, hanging you failed on numbers might not the be best idea. If you were going to do the letters and you're looking for advice on those fronts. This is what I recommend as rules of thumb.

A.) Provide Opportunities.
Rather then say things like you don't draw the bad guys attention, or you don't get betrayed. Flip flop them. give them the ability to select something like: • "You picked up a runaway from the Dam Gang, and he spills a secret about them to you. He also wants to stick around, do you take him in? If so, what do you have him do?" 

This provides a bunch of things, a resource, a secret, perhaps announcing badness of what the gang is doing, and providing a snowball because maybe you can snowball a miss into they're coming after him / anyone know knows...
Obviously a choose 3 of 5 isn't the way to go if each bullet is this packed, but you could just say, hey you picked up a runaway and... Choose three of five about them or what they tell you. Also remember, you do not need to have a hard miss on a love letters miss; just need for any selection to provide opportunities for story and snowball they they'll appreciate.

B.) Provide Resolution
If they keep trying to do a thing, get a thing, and they never quite get the time to get it done. Sometimes when you know some time is going to pass in the game-world, this is a good opportunity to provide them with a move that lets them try to wrap it up all up nicely.

C.) Catch them Up
If they miss a week, and everyone else made lots more progress, sometimes coming into that story can have them on their back foot. They aren't sure how the world has changed, or if their last actions have paid off, or how things are snowballing. Use a love letter to transition them into the action. Don't hold them hostage though, if you're trying to spring board, don't use this bad thing didn't happen, and that bad things didn't; instead set it up so whatever happened--happened, and give them bullets to affect the resolution and their position in the snowballs after. Tie that into what the others were doing if needed.

Those are my thoughts! You aren't "Doing it wrong" though. I made lots of mistakes, its how we learn how to do them right--sometimes those mistakes actually worked out even better. I personally recommend talking it out and using their start of session / gigs as a spring board. But, letters work too. Just relax and have fun.

*

DannyK

  • 157
Re: Love Letters of Scuzz Town
« Reply #4 on: November 28, 2016, 07:18:46 PM »
I like love letters as a way of addressing stuff the PC's are working on that doesn't really have a mechanic otherwise, like a Hardholder building a wall or the Skinner learning a new instrument. Also as a way of unlocking new features of the environment, like finding a hidden underground chamber in the building your guys took over last session. I usually save unambiguously bad stuff for misses, since otherwise people feel like they are obliged to spend their "pick ones" to avoid bad stuff. And the bad stuff is usually plot fuel like relationships going bad or valuable stuff breaking, rather than taking harm.

Re: Love Letters of Scuzz Town
« Reply #5 on: November 28, 2016, 08:05:46 PM »
Lots of good advice here, but I'd like to mention another angle on this:

1. There's nothing necessarily "wrong" with your love letters. There's lots of good stuff there, and, although I agree with some of the criticisms and suggestions which have been brought up, I'm sure you'll have a good time if you use them as-is.

It's a taste thing, really - there's no right or wrong way to do love letters.

My preference? Provide more opportunities and choices (and less "bad stuff"), or use them to resolve things happening off-screen we don't want to watch in action (like building a wall around the compound). DannyK nailed that one, in the reply just before mine!

I'd rather start the session with some meaningful fuel for my character to follow his interests ("You've discovered one of your gang is a spy. What do you do? On a 10+, You've got her, tied up, in your holding cell. 7-9, You know who she is; but she doesn't yet know that her cover has been blown - you have an opportunity, if you act quickly. 6-, She knows she's been found out, and she's ready for you (two of your best guys have gone missing, by the way)").

It's only really appropriate, I think, if something was already in action, and you want to disclaim responsibility about how well it's gone. (For the above example, maybe the session ended with you saying, "Hey, Bran: apparently, someone's been leaking your plans to the hardholder," and the player, "Ok, I put my best men on it...") That doesn't involve the character directly, and you don't want to spend playtime on it, nor do you have a ready idea for "how it should go", so rolling for it settles it nicely without you having to do that.

I also find that roll+stat isn't always right for this; sometimes I prefer to work in some choices for the player.

("Roll two dice. Who is going out? Toyota is the best person for this job, but he's still got a concussion. Do you put him on it, or let him rest? Also, they might need transportation.
* If Toyota's on it, add 1 to your roll.
* If you're willing to lend out your truck for the mission, add 1.
[...]")

2. A love letter doesn't need to follow a "roll+adds" system. You could do something else entirely, like just having the player choose from a list (no rolling). Or you could ask them some questions, instead.

For instance:

"The battle with Tum Tum's gang was a rough one, but you came out of it ahead, thanks to the hardholder's help. (For which, remember, you promised to send him one of your soldiers - but not just one of them, one of them who could read and write.) Some of them got away, but you also managed to take one of theirs alive.

Whom did you capture? Choose one. The other got away.
* Tum Tum, himself
* Tum Tum's lieutenant, the one who knows the codes

Whom do you send to the hardholder, as a way of saying thanks? Flasher - the one you were planning on sending - didn't make it out alive, unfortunately. You've only got two other people who can read; choose one.
* Toyota is your strongest and most reliable: she'll serve him well, but she doesn't like him, does she?.
* Dremmer can read, but he's getting old, weak, and he's a drug addict."

I like this kind of thing, because there are tough choices which save us the trouble of establishing those details early on in the session. When we start play, this player has a clear starting scene/position: they have a prisoner to deal with, and they can think ahead accordingly. Similarly, the hardholder will be presented with a less-than-ideal candidate, and you can see how they react, and start building that PC-NPC-PC triangle as you begin the session. Both present a good starting scene for that character.

You can just prepare provocative questions, too, to jumpstart the session:

"Last session, we left off with you, alone and unobserved, in the hardholder's "precious items" depository. You could easily steal something small, if you like. Ask the hardholder's player to tell you about three special, memorable items she keeps down there, and what they mean to her. Do you take one of them? And, if so, why? Did the hardholder take something from you, way back?"

(Ideally, this kind of thing ties into their Hx or builds on other themes you find interesting in their relaitionship. Obviously, this would be no good if you expect the player to say "Nah"; you have to build on established relationship dynamics to make sure it's relevant to the players. I would only use the above if the player had showed an interest in stealing something earlier in the game, but it so happened we didn't get a chance to discuss it in detail.)

It's great when, as in this example, it encourages the players to talk to each other.

If you send them out ahead of time, you might get some more interesting or thoughtful answers, too.

Not the best examples, sorry - but the point is that I encourage you to "think outside the box". A love letter doesn't have to be a "roll+stat, on a 10+ you get a good thing [...]", etc.

Start-of-session moves for some of the characters (especially the hardholder) might also be a little overkill if paired with a love letter, so choose appropriately. My general rule of thumb is that those moves (which were chosen by the players!) are the source of trouble, and the love letters, instead, are a source of opportunity. (Of course, if a character is all comfy and cozy, and has no start-of-session moves or problems, it might be a good time to provide an opening for such.) But don't forget about the start-of-session moves when you write your love letters!
« Last Edit: November 28, 2016, 08:25:49 PM by Paul T. »

*

DannyK

  • 157
Re: Love Letters of Scuzz Town
« Reply #6 on: December 12, 2016, 11:41:42 PM »
No brilliant MC philosophy here, but the best love letter I ever wrote said something like, "the diggers working on your back room break through into a hidden underground vault of the Ancients."  It really expanded the fictional space in a cool new direction, and that was more fun that saying, hey! you get an extra barter this round!