In a Wicked Age session report

pemerton

Legend
We played a short session of In a Wicked Age today. The "worldbuilding" is fun - turn up 4 cards and read off "the oracles". There are four possible oracles to choose from - Blood & Sex, God-kings of War, the Unquiet Past, and a Nest of Vipers. The gang chose "A Nest of Vipers", and so the 4 cards gave us A fallen-in mansion, where by night ghosts and devils meet, the solemnization of treaty between two neighboring principalities, negotiated in the face of brutality and assassination, doomed, a wayhouse in which plague-victims have recently stayed and a conjurer possessed by spirits of uncivil character.

We then had to come up with the characters (express and implicit) in this situation. There is no canonical rule for that, so I did it by going around the table twice (for ten characters). This gave us:

* Prince Diamond, ready to sign the treaty;
* His chief diplomat;
* The ghost of the owner of the mansion;
* A plague-animated corpse;
* A plague carrier;
* A conjurer;
* A spirit possessing the conjurer;
* A demon impersonating Prince Diamond's mother-in-law;
* An assassin who has caused strife;
* An investigator in too deep.​

The players chose to play the ghost, the corpse, the conjurer and the assassin. I wrote up the prince and his diplomat, the spirit, the demon and the plague carrier as NPCs. The investigator didn't get written up and never came into it.

The final stage was nominating "best interests" for the characters. Some were pretty unsurprising (eg the ghost wanted to confirm that the conjurer was responsible for its death, and then seek vengeance) but others more surprising (the corpse wanted to find its love, and then put down the wicked).

The writing up was pretty quick, leaving us an hour or so of play. Because of the constrained time I (as GM) pushed things fairly hard as far as framing, connections between characters, etc was concerned. The GM advice refers to rushing up to a conflict, circling a conflict or drawing a conflcit out, but I didn't do much drawing out and mostly rushed up.

The session started in the waystation, which had once been an outbuilding of the mansion and was still standing, and (it turned out) had a view of the plaza where the treaty was to be signed. The corpse tried to find its love - not the conjurer (it turned out), nor the carrier, but the demon in disguise (or, at least, the demon persuaded the corpse of that).

The carrier had been buried in a shallow grave, apparently dead, by the conjurer, but then regained consciousness. Around the same time, the ghost of the mansion drove the possessing spirit out of the conjurer (which was wanting to keep its "fleshbag" for itself) resulting in the conjurer losing memory of what he had done beforehand (including to the carrier).

The final twist was the plague carrier turning out to be the princess of the other realm (in disguise as a commoner, and infected with plague), which led to a near-failure of diplomacy when she confronted the prince with the accusation that his vizier (the now un-possessed conjurer) had buried her as if dead.

The session finished when the assassin resolved both his best interests - he wanted to assassinate the diplomat, and avoid contractingthe plague - when I defeated him in his Nth attempt (N =3, I think) to get the drop on the diplomat and then offered a negotiated resolution: the diplomat is dead if he contracts the plague (due to having been staying in the waystation, plus contact with the princess immediately after she climbed out of her "grave"). The player accepted, and the clock struck.

Vincent Baker has a blog post explaining a weakness in the resolution system, namely, that once a conflict starts the unfolding fiction doesn't really iterate back into its resolution; and we did discover this even in our brief session. Still, I would say as a system for generating colourful characters and situation quickly, I would compare it favourably to classic Traveller.

I don't know if we'll come back to it or not. I'd be happy to, but the rest of the gang would have to be on board.
 
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Manbearcat

Adventurer
So while VB is my favorite designer, IaWA is not something I've run. The (probably erroneous) abstract that I've culled from various bits and pieces over the years is that, while by NO MEANS is it thematically neutral, it is not remotely in the same ballpark of thematic distillation/focus as his games Dogs in the Vineyard and Apocalypse World.

After a read-through and a game, what do you have to say about its thematic distillation/focus in each of:

- Games premise
- GMing advice
- Character/Setting creation
- Conflict Resolution mechanics
- Reward Cycles/Advancement




For folks who aren't familiar with precisely what I'm angling at here, let us take Dogs in the Vineyard:

- The game is about gun-toting Paladins (God's Watchdogs) rooting out sin, guiding the Faithful, and meting out justice in "A Wild West That Never Was" which is shot through with sin.

- The GM pushes and pulls each Dog in ways that challenge their character by resenting them with decision-points that will end up revealing their character in play; eg prioritize virtues, decide what they're wiling to risk, battle demons...some without, some within. The makes up the opposition after learning about the Dogs and folding that opposition into the general milieu (as described above), each locale an individual Town with its own rotten core (some worse than others, some hidden, some in your face).

- The PCs are made up of Stats (Heart, Body, Acuity, Will), thematic Relationships, thematic Traits, thematic Belongings. These have scores that will help and complicate a Dog in their duties.

- The conflict resolution mechanics have a Poker-like aesthetic. In all, conflict generally takes the form of escalation from from words > fists/knives > guns depending on what sort of stakes each character is willing to risk. Conflict becomes increasingly lethal as numbers advantage increases on a side. Through this, we learn both about NPCs and about the Dogs themselves as each conflict-charged situation unfolds and escalates or one side folds.

- "Damage" in Dogs is "Fallout". Its also "xp". Rolling 1s on your post-conflict Fallout will flesh out your character some and/or improve them (such as add 1 to a Stat or create a new Relationship at 1d6). This encourages players to be bold and risk wounds (while the danger of a big Fallout total mediates this impulse to fight only for what you believe and stand your ground as makes sense). Reflection is the other form of xp. In between Towns, all the participants reflect on just what happened in the last Town. How did it reveal about your character? Who do trust more/less after this? Who do you know now (or better) that you didn't before? What was the impact on your Faith/morale? Was it worth it? As Fallout above, pick some form advancement (maybe a new Trait at d6 or add a dice or remove one from an existing Trait).

All this stuff works together to thematically focus the game and engender a table feel that is instantly recognizable from a game that is thematically focused in a different direction (say, My Life With Master) or thematically diluted (say any generic role playing game with generic task resolution).
 

pemerton

Legend
So while VB is my favorite designer, IaWA is not something I've run. The (probably erroneous) abstract that I've culled from various bits and pieces over the years is that, while by NO MEANS is it thematically neutral, it is not remotely in the same ballpark of thematic distillation/focus as his games Dogs in the Vineyard and Apocalypse World.

After a read-through and a game, what do you have to say about its thematic distillation/focus in each of:

- Games premise
- GMing advice
- Character/Setting creation
- Conflict Resolution mechanics
- Reward Cycles/Advancement
I can't comment on the last item, as that is part of the campaign structure and we didn't explore that. (Ie each new session allows changes to PCs.)

The conflict resolution mechanic suffers from two problems: the one that I mentioned in my post, and from fact that the stakes are set by the system, and are rather modest (a drop in die size to two of six stats), unless their is negotiation. So unlike DitV, or a 4e skill challenge, there is no concrete thing that is stakes - a loser can always hold out and just take the default consequence. And unlike DitV or Poison'd (the latter a Vincent Baker game I've read but not played), there is no escalation mechanic.

What incentivises negotiation, to an extent, is the fact that the session ends when a PC emerges as the clear protagonist and/or as having resolved his/her "best interests" (this is a table call guided by the GM), and there is no guarantee that you can carry your PC forward to another session, so if you want to finish successfully you're going to have to negotiate. Still, it felt a little weak.

The GMing advice is pretty good. The character/setting creation is very strong, as I said in my post: lots of colour and obvious points of possible connection between generated elements.

The premise is not dictated by the game per se, but emerges out of the setting elements plus players' choices of best interests. The obvious themes are love, hate, revenge, war, sex. This emerges from the "oracles", and also the six stats (For Self, For Others, With Love, With Violence, Directly, Covertly). So when the elements are chosen, and the players identify and build PCs, and then choose best interests, and the GM starts framing - well, premise emerges. With a single short session I can't say how deep or replayable it is, but I found it pretty amusing.
 

Schmoe

Explorer
This is a judgment-free question...

Was this fun? Reading through that, my first thought was "Ugh, what a lot of prep work for what sounds like even more forced and challenging DM-shepherding through to something that nobody could have been invested in."

I'm quite certain my opinion isn't the only one out there :)

So, where is the fun?
 

pemerton

Legend
Was this fun? Reading through that, my first thought was "Ugh, what a lot of prep work for what sounds like even more forced and challenging DM-shepherding through to something that nobody could have been invested in."

<snip>

So, where is the fun?
I don't see why you think nobody could be invested.

The fun is in (i) reading off the oracles to learn what the basic situation is, (ii) coming up with characters - which obviously is one avenue to investment - then (iii) deciding what those characters want ("best interests") - more investment - and then (iv) playing those characters.

As a play experience, I wouldn't say it has a lot in common with (say) Tomb of Horrors. But compare to the Castle Amber session I ran the fortnight before, it was quicker to set up, was less silly, and produced more memorable action per time-unit of play. (I've chosen Castle Amber is a comparator because (a) it has memorable NPCs who help drive the action of play, and (b) I have recent experience with it.)
 

Schmoe

Explorer
I don't see why you think nobody could be invested.

The fun is in (i) reading off the oracles to learn what the basic situation is, (ii) coming up with characters - which obviously is one avenue to investment - then (iii) deciding what those characters want ("best interests") - more investment - and then (iv) playing those characters.

As a play experience, I wouldn't say it has a lot in common with (say) Tomb of Horrors. But compare to the Castle Amber session I ran the fortnight before, it was quicker to set up, was less silly, and produced more memorable action per time-unit of play. (I've chosen Castle Amber is a comparator because (a) it has memorable NPCs who help drive the action of play, and (b) I have recent experience with it.)
Interesting. So it sounds like part of the game is the setup, which helps create a more engaging play through. Cool, thanks! I'm still not sure it's for me, because it sounds like the DM has to really push a narrative along, which is something I rarely do and am not comfortable with, but it definitely makes more sense now.
 

pemerton

Legend
it sounds like the DM has to really push a narrative along
The "best interests" should give the PCs a reason to engage (often in a conflicting way) with other PCs and/or NPCs. The GM's job is to establish situations ("scenes") that will trigger those engagements. Because our session was on a tight clock, I pushed fairly hard towards some prospect of resolution.
 

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