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Played some Wuthering Heights today

pemerton

Legend
Wuthering Heights is a French RPG, though - as the name suggests - it has been translated and adapted to English.

I first learned of it from Ron Edwards's review and have found a few versions online - here's one - two in English, one in French. The French version has a few more rules. Last year I wrote up my own version of the rules - 4 pages of A4 - in anticipation of getting to run it as a one-shot. That happened today.

PC gen involves rolling for Rage, Despair and Age. The latter yields (what I called in my version) Experience and Decrepitude. Every character then rolls for 1d5 problems on the prolbems table, with options to reroll undesired results and to make sure you have enough problems to drive your PC. Every character also must have something which flutters in the breeze.

The first of our two characters started with Rage 42, Despair 49, 17 years old with problems homosexual, bad eyesight, obsessed by the occult and socialist. The player decided that his fluttering thing was a kilt, and that young Hamish MacGregor had migrated from Glasgow to London where he worked in a bookshop in Soho that sells books dealing with leftwing political themes and occultism and spiritualism.

The second started with Rage 48, Despair 50, 25 years old with problems republican, mute, and monk. After some discussion it turned out that he was a somewhat conservative Puritan republican (harking back to the 17th century Commonwealth) who had been struck mute for "neurotic" reasons after reading an usnpeakable political tract (I suggested The German Ideology). He had therefore left his religous house in Salisbury to travel to London to try and find and destroy any further copies.

The action resolution rules are fairly straightforward. To act violenty (or, as we interpreted it, forthrightly) the player must roll below Rage on d%; to refrain from violence s/he must roll above Rage; to act with sincerity s/he must roll below Despair;for the character to focus on something other than his/her own feelings and/or make an important decision, s/he must roll above Despair. Emotiontally signficant events or shocks cause gains or losses in Rage and/or Despair - 1, d5 or d10 depending on severity - and we treated this as something for the GM to adjudicate. Various thresholds - of gain or loss within a certain period of game time, and hitting certain break points like 75 or 90, trigger additional consequences.

This is the section on "the play of the game" I had written up in my version, cribbed in part from Edwards's and other reviews and in part from the game rules (maybe the French version?):

Once everyone has their characters, kick off the session with some manner of inciting incident. This should be a crisis, preferably targeted at the characters’ Problems, that creates an untenable situation, bringing the characters physically together while emotionally at odds. (I kicked things off with a funeral, an idea lifted directly from an old actual play post.) The characters then try to deal with this situation: someone describes what their character is doing, and rolls dice when dictated by the situation and stated actions. The mechanics model the character’s unstable emotions, and will get everyone into more trouble than they started in – that’s what makes it a Tragedy. Everyone needs to be ready to roleplay according to the dice results, and should totally play up their Problems. Unflinchingly. There’s no limit when it comes to drama in Wuthering Heights.

At some point in the middle of a session, the GM might chime in with some information or usable “handles” to bring things together or provide room for a desperate ploy. I see Wuthering Heights as moving in two “acts”, the first of which involves getting neck deep in torment or intrigue, and the second consisting of the final resolutions. A key revelation or logistic event can provide the transition between the two. (A tragedy can, however, be as many as three to six acts.)

It is suggested that 2d10 hours to 2d10 days elapse between scenes, 2d10 weeks between acts, and 2d10 months to 2d10 years between tragedies.

The action therefore started with Brother Neville entering the Red-on-Black bookshop, having seen a poster in its window advertising a meeting that evening to discuss the future of the monarchy. Hamish tried to strike up a conversation about left-wing politics, that caused Neville to glare at him rather harshly (successful roll beneath Rage) and led Hamish to see if he could interest him in works on spiritualism instead, in the upstairs rear of the bookshop. There were a few checks here but I can't remember them all - but as GM it became fairly clear that I needed to introduce a new dynamic into the situation to make things happen.

So Barry turned up, a strapping lad in his early 20s who (after some random generation) I determined had Rage of 54 and Despair of 47. And who - it was agreed - was the object of Hamish's crush. Barry started trying to talk to Brother Neville about politics - when he saw Neville looking through a German tract (Neville's play answered "yes" when asked by me if Neville can read German) he asked after his interest in the works of Feuerbach. This irritated Neville, and things escalated into a scuffle between him and Barry. This was resolved using the conflict resolution framework for Duels - which determines an outcome based on the success of each player's attempt to roll under Rage - and the upshot was that Neville was Wounded. His player therefore had to roll against Decrepitude to determine the outcome, and rolling 25 exactly was a fumble that meant he was dead! (Of a heart attack.) As I referred Neville's players to the rules for Ghosts (spoilered just below), we resolved Hamish's responses to Barry's requests to help take the body in a wooden crate (used to ship German pamphlets) and dump it in the Thames. (A quick Google confirmed my memory that it's not that far from Soho to the Thames.)

If a character dies before the end of a Tragedy (ie an “adventure”), s/he might become a ghost, 2d10 minutes of game play later. Ghosts can fly slowly, but can’t go through solid objects. A ghost may act (subtly) on the physical world by rolling below its Rage and losing d10 points of Rage after that. It may suggest something to a living character or appear and speak to one other character by rolling below its Despair and losing d10 points of Despair after that. A ghost will disappear when its Rage or Despair reaches 10 or below, or at the end of the Tragedy. A ghost never gains Rage or Despair, nor loses them for other reasons than ghostly actions.

With a random roll we determined that it took 10 minutes to get the body to the Thames (two strapping lads in a hurry!) and the ghost roll was 15 minutes. I narrated the lid falling off the crate as it hit the stones on the side of the bank, and Neville's body tumbling out - I didn't want the "solid objects" rule to come into play.

The next scene was the meeting at the bookshop. A number of socialists were there, mostly young but one old neckbeard who (as I described it) dominated the conversations about theory, and mostly men but some women including one woman wearing trousers. Barry gave a speech about getting rid of Edward once Victoria died. Hamish then rose to give a speech hoping to impress Barry, but failed to roll under Despair to convey his sincerity and hence saw Barry more interested in Elise - the trousered woman - than him! He couldn't be sure with his bad eyesight, but they seemed to be flirting. As his speech reached a crescendo, and his Rage and Despair were both rising, the ghost pushed a book of the very shelf Neville had been standing at when he died so that it landed on his head. Hamish then picked this up and flung it at Elise. A fracas broke out, the meeting ended, and Hamish having gained more than 10 points of Despair in a week became Troubled, sitting in the upstairs room of occult books obsessing over his problems.

I then cut ahead a week. The random roll (8 days rolld on a d10) indicated that Hamish was still Troubled when Barry came back. The ghost made sure the bell-clapper did not ring, so that Hamish didn't know Barry was there until he was right in front of him. Barry explained urgently that, after the fracas, someone had spoken to the constabularyHamish's player spoke his response, and the player of Neville interepreted it as throwing Barry under a bus (ie denying complicity in the killing of Neville and the dumping of the body). Hamish's player protested that this was not what was intended and so a roll was called for to see if Hamish had been able to communicate with sincerity to Barry. Unfortunately he rolled above his Despair, and there was a series of unahppy rolls from Hamish's player as Barry argued with and manhandled him, so that he ended up beaten and left for dead in the bookshop despite his best efforts to convey to Barry his true sympathyies and loyalty,

The ghost then influenced a police officer to come into the shop, which he did, and Hamish was taken to prison for violating multiple censorship laws. He proceeded to recover in the prison hospital (rolling above his 17 Decrepitute in spite of the -10 penalty that I applied) and after a bit more beating from the prison guards (I can't remember what triggered this but perhaps an attempt to escape, which failed due to rolling above his Rage?), from which he also recovered, started to persuade his cellmates towards socialst convictions (rolling below his Despair so as to express his views and feelings severely).

In the meantime the ghost, acting something like a poltergeist (he had a string of good ghost rolls although later on some were unsuccessful), was able to frame Barry for pickpocketing and hence Barry also ended up in prison.

The result of Hamish's actions in prison were a riot! We resolved this using the rules for fighting in war (found only in the French version): the outcome depends on the results of two rolls against Rage. The first failed - so Hamish was watching others riot when he saw Barry across the prison being beaten to a pulp. With is second successful check he was able to "fight passably" - and with the increase in Rage and Despair from seeing Barry killed, he tore off Barry's blood-soaked shirt and also the top of a prison mop to serve as his red flag as he ran out into the street, where police and soldiers had gathered.

In the street the rest of the prisoners melted away (there may have been a failed roll against Despair here) and Hamish found himself confronting a 38 year old policeman, with Rage of 21 and Despair of 27 (randomly rolled by me). After some discussion among the three of us Hamish's player indicated he wanted to resolve this as a duel, rather than more warfare, and so a check was made for each against Rage. Both failed, and so as per the rules "the duel stops and the two characters become friends (or something like that)" - the constable defected to join the socialist revolution! A fumble on my part meant the constable was also Wounded.

Hamish took the constable back to the bookshop so he could recover. A roll under Despair indicated that he had become smitten by his charge; but then a roll over the police officer's Despair meant the affection was not reciprocated. So once he recovereed the policeman left the bookshop. Hamish wanted to try some occult blood-magic, but the roll to perform a violent action (ie drawing his own blood) failed. He then reached 90 Despair, which is the trigger for a character trying to kill him-/herself. At that point the ghost of Neville - which had failed in a few prior attempts to do things, and so had appeared briefly on the bookshop staircase to no effect - succeeded in appearing to Hamish and suggesting that he burn the bookshop down. Hamish's player made two successful rolls under his Rage, and so he succeeded in his attempt at self-murder.

Thus the story came to an end, with the Soho bookshop in ashes and both PCs dead.

Including PC build and familiarising the players with the rules, we had two hours of play. I was pretty happy that we were able to bring things to a conclusion, although it was a bit more brutal than I'd anticipated. I was happy that we got to see a good range of the system in play (including the ghost rules) with one exception: I forgot about the rule that "To draw upon your wisdom to perform a mental , moral or spiritual feat, roll below Experience" - this would have been relevant to Hamish's attempt to master the occult, but neither I nor his player remembered it. So it was resolved instead via the Rage and Despair rules.

Although there are rules for carrying characters across "tragedies" (sessions), this is a game that I would see as mostly suited to one-shots. I don't think I've ever seen it discussed on ENworld, but if anyone asked I say it's worth trying out.
 

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Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
That's a very cool game. I like the mechanics quite a bit and I quite enjoyed how the mechanics seem to really pull players into actions at the ends of the emotional spectrum. Players sometimes tend to be conservative in that regard, and it's interesting to see what playing it the hilt looks like when there's mechanical support. I'd agree that it seems ideally suited for one shots, or perhaps 2-3 sessions, rather than long campaigns. That's fine though, not every game needs to be long.
 

pemerton

Legend
That's a very cool game. I like the mechanics quite a bit and I quite enjoyed how the mechanics seem to really pull players into actions at the ends of the emotional spectrum.
I wasn't sure - have you played it, or are you commenting on my report? If you've played it, how did it go?
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I wasn't sure - have you played it, or are you commenting on my report? If you've played it, how did it go?
Just commentary, I haven't played it. I only had the info to comment because of your wonderfully detailed write up. Translating games from the French isn't in my basket of skills, despite being Canadian. :D
 


pemerton

Legend
Just commentary, I haven't played it. I only had the info to comment because of your wonderfully detailed write up. Translating games from the French isn't in my basket of skills, despite being Canadian. :D
My French is pretty rudimentary - I used Google translate to help with some of it. But most of it is in the English versions!

The French problems table is different - eg it's a problem to be a Protestant, whereas in Wuthering Heights it's a problem to be a Catholic.

Very interesting.

I wonder if that system could be adapted to supers or even vampires?
I haven't thought about this. I'm not sure about supers unless you wanted to do all the actual powers as free narration within the context of Rage, Despair and Experience. (And typing that makes it sound more feasible than I first thought.)

For vampires I think you could, yes. Instead of Decrepitude maybe Hunger?
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
My French is pretty rudimentary - I used Google translate to help with some of it. But most of it is in the English versions!

The French problems table is different - eg it's a problem to be a Protestant, whereas in Wuthering Heights it's a problem to be a Catholic.

I haven't thought about this. I'm not sure about supers unless you wanted to do all the actual powers as free narration within the context of Rage, Despair and Experience. (And typing that makes it sound more feasible than I first thought.)

For vampires I think you could, yes. Instead of Decrepitude maybe Hunger?
I don't know about supers, but from the description you gave I can see this working really well for a vampire game. Not maybe the Vampires as crypto-supers approach that some WW games turn into, but the gothic despair and hunger and clinging to the vestiges of humanity kind of game.

After some thought, I think I agree about supers. The supers thing I initially dismissed, but I can see how the system actually has some potential to tell grown-up superhero stories. I think you could tell a story like Watchmen, for example.
 

pemerton

Legend
I think you could tell a story like Watchmen, for example.
It may not have come through that clearly in my OP, but the actual play of this game leans towards the comedic rather than the serious.

Obviously the events and characters aren't funny in themselves, but as an external participant confronting these exaggeratd problems and these personae being battered by Despair and Rage there's more than a hint of the 20th/21st century making fun of overwrought Victorian sensibilities.

So in the superhero genre I reckon it might do better for Lee/Ditko Spiderman than something grim like the Watchmen!
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
It may not have come through that clearly in my OP, but the actual play of this game leans towards the comedic rather than the serious.

Obviously the events and characters aren't funny in themselves, but as an external participant confronting these exaggeratd problems and these personae being battered by Despair and Rage there's more than a hint of the 20th/21st century making fun of overwrought Victorian sensibilities.

So in the superhero genre I reckon it might do better for Lee/Ditko Spiderman than something grim like the Watchmen!
I feel like the extremeness could be made to serve interests other than strictly the comic. Part of the reason I think The Watchmen would work is that I find it a little overwrought in places. It's an enduring classic, and a favorite, but it does take itself deadly seriously, sort of (more on this in a sec). Same goes for the Vampire genre. I think this rules set could handle both marvelously with just an undertone of irony or satire, which suits my temperament quite well. In the case of The Watchmen I feel like that undertone of satire is already there, certainly in commentary on 80's society. If you compare the superhero genre from the 80's to the more self aware and winking Joss Whedon Avengers my point might be clearer. The same comparison gets us Interview With a Vampire and What we do in the Shadows, although in that case the satire is obviously less than subtle. I guess what I'm getting at is that satire and comedy can also be tragic if handled properly.

I was thinking about the events in The Watchmen and setting that next to the rules for the game and I kept nodding and saying, uh-huh, yep, that works. IDK, maybe my reading is more idiosyncratic than I think it is.
 

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