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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 156 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [The Emperor's Heart] A Pair of New Lungs  (Read 2819 times)

Posts: 67

« on: August 01, 2007, 06:44:47 PM »


This time I sat down and played a pickup game with my friend Tanya.  She has mostly a history of Illusionist play, with stuff like Call of Cthulhu and L5R in her history.  We had played together in both an Unknown Armies campaign as well as a short DitV run.  This time around, I found system aspects I wanted to change, which I'll talk about later.


Since it was just the two of us, I let Tanya pick both the Outlaw Faction as well as the Scenario.  She went with the Dragon River School- which is basically your uber-Shaolin types, coopted by the government to suppress other dissidents... until they finally can't take it anymore.  She also really liked the Imperial Palace scenario, and we decided that the Dragon River Enforcers basically were about to undertake a mass rebellion ala Curse of the Golden Flower, and the resource they were looking for was getting the Imperial Seal in order to cement their usurption of power.  Also, the Turmoil listed on the Scenario was that 3 different Eunuchs would be needing a new set of lungs soon, which became a major factor in play.

Heroes and Villains

Simi (Tanya's Hero)
- Disciple, still trying to prove her worth to the Dragon River warriors
- Turned Spy - is a double agent, supposedly working for the Immortal Red Plum, in fact working for the Dragon River School
- Forbidden Knowledge, knows that the Imperial Seal is a copy, the real one is hidden

"9 Sword" Ox (My Hero)
- Exiled, had been betrayed and politically destroyed, now back to help the rebellion
- Hidden Crime, had killed the previous leader of the Dragon River School, then thrown to the dogs
- Sworn Vow, that previous leader forgave him, but demanded that he protect the Imperial Seal (possibly knowing about the upcoming rebellion)

Red Plum Immortal (Immortal Eunuch, shifted control as needed)
- Had cleverly outmanuevered most of the other Eunuchs, slowly eating away their power
- (later, in play we decided) Had a decrepit cyborg body with the face of a child sewn in the place of his own.  Creepy.


Though Tanya has never been fully comfortable with games that stray from the traditional, she does fairly good at them anyway.  Though initially she wasn't engaged, as soon as I hit her with the first scene, she got right into it.  I think part of it is that she loves to play spies and manipulators, and here she was allowed to, without running into the invisible walls of Illusionism or struggling to get her plots underway without breaking "meta" rules.  The usual thing which breaks her engagement is dice usage, though she fell right into the conflict resolution mechanics without a problem.


The day before the Great Rebellion, Simi was called into deliver a report to the Immortal Red Plum, along with all the other loyalist Dragon River Enforcers.  She claimed that she was just a disciple and not privy to any of the real plans, to which Red Plum suggested she simply provide the dead body of one of the other Loyalists to earn trust with the rebels.

The poor sacrificial pawn, "Student 23" was actually also a spy for yet another Immortal- Spider.  This was Red Plum's way of both measuring all the Loyalists as well as eliminating a leak.  The conflict wasn't just a physical fight, but also of wits as Student 23 also knew of Simi's divided loyalties- it became a fight for life and death as well as trying to out the other while keeping their own cover.  Simi managed to win without blowing her cover, though it wasn't easy (all of this skullduggery is stuff we came up with during play, on the fly)

The night of the rebellion, as battles and fires raged about, Simi managed to save several of the rebels from one of Red Plum's traps, simply by faking their deaths at her hands and double played Red Plum convincing him that she was trying to engineer the downfall of another Immortal in the process.

Meanwhile, Ox had hunted down the one set of cybernetic lungs which three different Immortals needed for their own.  Sadly, he was recognized and mobbed by at all three factions of followers, many of whom had taken part in destroying his clan before he was exiled.  Only through a tough battle and luck, did he get ahold of the lungs, and took them to the "Processing Plant" to try to destroy them (being encased in some kind of nigh indestructible cylinder, again, stuff we just came up with for dramatic effect).

As he undertook this task, yet another one of his old enemies, General Cutting Cloud, shows up and a brutal duel breaks out while the machines set up to fill the cylinder with molten hot liquid.   

Overall, we had this really intense scene of dueling and trash talking:

"I will break your body just like I broke your will when I had your family killed!"
"You were too much of a coward to do it yourself..."
"That's what leaders have- expendable men."
"No man is expendable, unless he was never a man at all" (snaps Cutting Cloud's neck)

Cut over to Simi, who has engineered a showdown with Red Plum.  After a short back and forth, and Red Plum calling a few robot guards, who all get handled easily, Ox shows up with the cylinder- "Here's your lungs, m'lord!" and pours forth the burning liquid and Simi ran up to decapitate him.


I myself found some wonkiness with the resources. 

First, as in the previous two games, the Award Tokens ran out pretty quickly.  And I had increased their number a bit from before.  It was pretty close, so I think twinking it just a bit I'll hit the right point. 

Second, I had allowed Tanya to use her Hero to utilize the Scenario Traits, which first gave her a lot of extra resources and reduced the number of Traits the Villains could call on.  I'm going to make Scenario Traits only for Villains and Supporting Cast, which also would do more towards giving players a reason to introduce and interact with Supporting Cast characters. 

Finally, I noticed that it's very easy and tempting to have the Villains play out all of their Traits early, thereby gimping them for the Endgame scene.  I might need some kind of extra boost for the opposition during Endgame, but we'll see what's going to work.

I still think the basic structure is solid, though I want to try playing with 3 or 4 players, as well as trying to deal with folks "breaking" the game, though honestly, since so many resources are shared with collaboration in mind, I think it might be a fragile game in that sense, which is also something to think about for later.

Just the same, I'm very pleased with the amount of fun I've managed to get out of it so far, even with barely tested rules.

PS- anyone interested in the rules or playtesting can download them here:


Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« Reply #1 on: August 02, 2007, 05:29:55 AM »

Hi Chris,

I'm interested in the villain currency. It's tricky to consider it in pure systematic terms, rather than rigid stepwise ones. In other words, if the villain rules (Scenario Traits) operate dynamically per scene, then they should give rise to different possible outcomes, both for the scene ("plot") and for the range or content of the villain's abilities in the future. As opposed to being some sort of slavish "villain gets 1 new Scenario Trait per scene" or anything else fixed.

If I'm not mistaken from your account, that dynamism isn't really happening yet, right? The villain uses up his traits as he goes, and that's that. Correct me if my understanding is too simplistic.

So is there a necessary reward step in between major scenes, in which the shared character gets altered? I kind of like the idea of the character improvement step being for (a) the bad guy, (b) both or all players, and (c) unpredictable regarding what that character will actually be like for the final battle.

Best, Ron

Posts: 67

« Reply #2 on: August 02, 2007, 09:10:46 AM »

Hi Ron,

You are correct, traits are one-use things- you get to use them once a session, then they're burnt out.  Villains get 3 Traits of their own, and can optionally pull from the the 3 Traits on the Scenario card. 

Mechanically, characters don't see change in play.  Conflicts serve primarily to shift positioning and fictional bits, which so far, through the use of flags and hard scene framing has served well for providing engaging play.  Thus, while a Villain might not see mechanical changes, at the end of a game, they might actually have shifted role from opposition to ally, or whatever happened to occur via conflict or consensus.

The crisis point of the game is the last round of scenes in Endgame- this is the only point when you can call for a conflict which will either: Off a major character, acquire the Resource (achieve the "mission, basically), resolve the Turmoil of the situation, or otherwise anything else which you might have decided along the way is more important/interesting to you.  So all of the previous conflicts and situations are effectively manuevering to set this up, and Traits are a dwindling resource which, in theory, both Heroes and Villains should be low on towards the end.

The problem being that Tanya's character having access to both her basic Traits and the Scenario Traits meant she had 6 Traits to call on, and the 3 which were Scenario Traits also drained from the Villain's Pool.  I'm thinking I'm going to rule that Heroes can never pull from the Scenario card, and thus, the only way they can get those Traits working for them is if a) a Supporting Cast character is introduced, and b) that character is positioned as an ally to spend those Traits in a Conflict.


Posts: 250


« Reply #3 on: August 24, 2007, 06:21:51 PM »

Chris, I just read all three games, and I'm fascinated.
The usual thing which breaks her engagement is dice usage, though she fell right into the conflict resolution mechanics without a problem.
This tells me you've got it right.

Posts: 67

« Reply #4 on: August 26, 2007, 07:28:02 PM »

Hi Meg,

Thanks for the input.  I've been thinking a lot about the ways in which we use rules and mechanics as tools to shape the "clay" of the fiction, and a lot of the game is exploration in that direction.

I've been super busy lately, but hopefully in a couple of weeks I can make some updates and get some more playtesting on.

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