[Annalise] Pompeii and the Cult of Blood

Started by Gregor Hutton, August 31, 2010, 02:01:53 PM

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Gregor Hutton

Last Monday Joe Prince, Russ Williams and I played a one-off session of Annalise. We decided to go with a Guided Play and we'd picked the Pompeii one that comes in the back of the Final Edition. I wanted to get this AP up while it was still fresh in my mind so I could talk about it.

Joe had read through the PDF before play and I'd brought the Final Edition book with me (I have earlier Editions too, but comparing them the text seems quite different between them in order and clarity -- and though I'd read the Errata on the findannalise website before I went on my holidays I'd forgotten what the actual change was!). I'd read through the first few chapters carefully and then realised we'd be skipping past those parts when playing since we were using a Guided Play. D'oh! This meant I was refereshing and reading at the table, which wasn't too much of a chore as the book was in the right order.

Anyway, the Guided Play gave us our starting characters and I summarized each one. We went with the Senator, the Matron and the Slave/Poet. The Actor was the one we dropped and I think that was probably the least integrated of the four characters (though with a fourth player she would have fitted in fine). I wrote down the secrets for the other two players and passed them along.

A briefl note on Guided Play: we liked the colour, the suggested scenes and the characters themselves. Some of the Satellite Traits were perhaps too broad adn didn't encourage us to want to develop more of tehm but more of that below.

So, our tale was centred around these characters at the villa and we had a series of scenes each. The Senator meeting his sons, the Matron finding an old flame on the mountain side, the slave trying to sell the pendant in return for his freedom. When we "found" the Vampire, we immediately went to the Confronting the Vampire section of play.

What we found was that Claims are awesome and organic and intuitive. The dice and their results are mostly rad. But what's up with only a result of 2 lowering a stat? Looking now I see that this is the rule that changed. It makes a 2 the "best" result for wearing down on a character (or rather an initial roll of 1, spawning a 3 before you convert the two results to 2s). So we didn't get any stats getting worked down in our short play. Looking at it there are a few ways to get coins into your Reserves (and so buy stats up, whereas there's only one score to bring them down). We felt that a 1 also expending a coin would have given more bite for us, but it's not a deal breaker.

We also didn't spawn any more satellite traits. Why would we do this? (Can't you just get by with one?) We found the ones our characters had were quite broad and could be turned to most uses. I can see how having more Satellite Traits allows for more flipping, which is useful. But we wondered about why we'd take down our Core Traits to make more Satellites?

We got lots of Consequences, which are fun. The flow of scenes is great too, and the Seizing/Pushing is sweet. Also the taking turns spending coins from Claims to affect the dice rolls is really enjoyable. It drives a great dynamic. We would go around affecting the scores and then each time it came to the spotlight player they would muse over going around again or just accepting what was there.

On the topic of the Vamire (which was a cult trying to do unspeakable things to the Senator's daughter) I think Joe and Russ would have liked to have known the Vampire up front, and to have had some mechanical triggers for progressing through phases (and even to have started with holds). I was OK with finding the Vampire in play, and soft building towards to, sort of feeling my way to the next phases and so on.

So this is my short AP but I thought I'd get it up here so that we could go over any details as necessary. I had a lot of fun and the Claims were picked up so easily by all of us once we saw them being used that first time on affecting the rolled dice and the Consequences on the table.

Adam Dray

I'm glad you didn't have many problems with the text itself. =D

Regarding the 2 consequence: I've generally found that I'm spending coins like crazy off my satellite traits, so I don't need a lot of other ways to reduce them. The old rule about rolling 1's was confusing and possibly recursive, so I was glad for the change. Was the story guide pushing additional consequences? So did you have like 4-5 good and bad things written down for each moment?

Discovering the Vampire in play is one of my favorite parts of the game. I think it's okay for the group to have some idea what the Vampire might be, in broad strokes, but leave the details to grow out of play. The Ouija board effect, as I like to say.

I agree that finding your way from phase to phase can be a kind of murky darkness. I've often wished for more mechanical definition there, but I've never strictly needed it in play. The group has always been able to resolve, "yeah, let's move to the Confrontation" or "no, let's hold off; I have a scene I want to see first."
Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at foundry.legendary.org 7777

Gregor Hutton

Yes, we had lots of Achievements and Consequences on the table BUT I don't have a brain in my head! I realized that while we were spending Coins off Claims I don't think we were spending them off Satellite Traits. So they should have been coming down (and partially going back up with 5s and Reserves). Perfect. We'd also be spawning new Satellites to get our +1 Coin.

I've got a list of our Achievements which I'll post online tomorrow.

Nathan P.

Thanks for this Gregor! I was concerned until I saw your correction - if you get into more than, like, 2 Moments on one Satellite Trait, it'll sure start getting pretty low...

I will mention one "play fluency" thing, too. I think it can be a responsibility of the Scene Guide to frame scenes and push Moments that aren't directly relevant to the characters existing Satellite Traits.

As for when to transition - it's deliberately non-mechanical. There is a list of guidelines, though they're more appropriate to long-form play. I put it upon your group to figure it out!

For one-shots, I absolutely endorse going to the Confrontation once the Vampire is discovered. How did the Confrontation go down?
Nathan P.
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Ron Edwards


By the most remarkable coincidence, Nathan, Tim Koppang, and I are currently two sessions into our own Annalise game. In the spirit of "How many Tai Ch'i masters does it take to change a lightbulb," I will say, "We're doing it ... a little differently." I'll post more on that later, either here or in its own thread depending on what happens in this one.

But I thought you might like to see this handy Annalise system diagram I scribbled after the first session. The solid arrows indicate either transfer or spending-away of Coins (in our game, jagged little semi-transparent red tokens). Dotted arrows are important effects which don't involve Coins. I just broke it into two diagrams, actually, to contrast the Laying the Foundations phase with the Confrontation phase.

Nathan's games rely strongly on currency attrition, and Annalise is very solid this way. In the Laying the Foundations phase, Coins are plentiful and cheap mainly due to making Claims and making Traits. The Claims side of the diagram (right side) is like flinging gold pieces around, with more pouring in, with a lot of personal input-power generated for making Outcomes turn out the way you want. The atmospheric and social landscape of play burgeons too with all those Claims established. The Traits side (left side) is less compelling, although you can choose to play it "harder" as I try to describe in the diagram's accompanying text.

But in the Confrontation phase, a lot of this dries up. You can't invent new Claims, or new Traits, so the main ways to bring Coins into play are gone, reduced to the more chancy and less-remunerative method from certain dice rolls. Without new Claims, old Claims' values slowly get used up and more and more often, you have to live with rolled values rather than tweak them to taste - in fact, if you really want to tweak hard, then you have to sacrifice Claims entirely. To get re-rolls after that, you have to rely on flipping the Traits and altering the character drastically. Plus, the Traits get targeted more strongly, including the Core ones getting targeted directly now, and the already-expensive Trait Raises, already expensive, are effectively priced out of the market. Your Secret, your Vulnerability, and your Reserves are all bleeding dry and one is going to suck wind soon.

It's pretty clear what happened with you guys missing the required Satellite Trait spending. If I'm not mistaken, your Confrontation phase was not particularly economically constrained, and might even have been more like story-conferencing.

I've got some comments about the vampire as a play element sort of drafted, which bears on the phase-transition issue, but I'll wait on that, because our game is still in the Laying the Foundations phase.

Best, Ron

Gregor Hutton

Yes, Nathan, I think that spending the coins was exactly what we had missed. The effect that had was not seeing the drive to split out Core Traits into Satellite Traits (which I now totally do see!) and that we wondered how Traits would get low enough for Holds to ... err ... take hold. I now see that too.

Our Achievements and Consequences from our scenes were:

(A) Sons to stop bothering Lucius, (C) Gain power of attorney for sons. [Neither side got their way here!]

(A) Rekindle "friendship" with Maximus, a former love; Get a mystical vision, (C) Fire at the house is malicious/arson; Catto is crippled in the fire. [Catto was injured but not crippled, the fire was suspicious, the vision didn't happen, but the friendship with Maximus was rekindled] ... and further in the use of Claims a further Achievement (A) Maximus will confront Mr Catto [he did from what I recall]

(A) Glaukos gets his Freedom, (C) Pendant is stolen from Glaukos [he doesn't get Freedom and he loses the pendant, but to Lucius' daughter, who he knows] ... and two further Consequences appeared as a result of rolls/Claims (C) Cult gains influence over Glaukos, Glaukos is delayed returning home [both partially happened]

We then got to the Confrontation. It looked to me that this Cult we were forming in the Fiction had a hold over all of our stories. So, we called them the Vampire and got to the Confrontation. We had time for one scene and it was Lucius, played by Joe, who had the one scene with the Cult.

(A) Claudia breaks free of the Cult, Soldiers attack the Cult, (C) Lucius gives in to the Cult (the free Consequence of facing the Vampire), Sons are revealed as Cult members [Joe revealed his secret, which I won't repeat here for spoiler reasons, and that set all the scores of Achievements and Complications at 3 or 4 as he choose].

The outcome was that Claudia ran back to her father, soldiers under Maximus attacked and drove off the Cultists, the brothers appeared quickly thereafter, but were not revealed to be in the Cult.

We ended it there as it was about home time for me to get back to Edinburgh (lest I burst into flame).

The creation of further Achievements and Consequences "in the Moment" was very enjoyable and I particularly liked the "beats" of play around the table as we used Claims. In fact, I should post about our Claims too (for another post). The Moment Record Sheet doesn't record the scores next to the Achievements and Consequences (curses!), but I'm glad we have the record of what they were. I'd like to have a record of how they ebbed and flowed to share with you too.

I think the only concern we had was about the reduction of Traits and that has been simply answered by re-reading the book and Moment sheet!

Gregor Hutton

Quote from: Ron Edwards on September 01, 2010, 02:28:01 PM
It's pretty clear what happened with you guys missing the required Satellite Trait spending. If I'm not mistaken, your Confrontation phase was not particularly economically constrained, and might even have been more like story-conferencing.

Yes, we were awash with Reserves, Secrets, Vulnerabilities and hearty Claims for the Confrontation phase, so we just went to see what a revealed Secret would do on our one scene in the Confrontation phase. We also did some re-organizing of our Claims going into that phase, which highlighted the Claims that we had found most interesting/resonant in play. I'll try to get to a post about our Claims tomorrow or the day after.

Adam Dray

Fantastic diagram and analysis, Ron!  I wish we'd included something like this in the text. <=)
Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at foundry.legendary.org 7777

Eoin Keith Boyle

Quote from: Gregor Hutton on September 01, 2010, 02:29:56 PMYes, Nathan, I think that spending the coins was exactly what we had missed. The effect that had was not seeing the drive to split out Core Traits into Satellite Traits (which I now totally do see!) and that we wondered how Traits would get low enough for Holds to ... err ... take hold. I now see that too.
Quite agreed - this, combined with confusion on players taking over as story guides, was at the core of what killed my "Lovecraftian Annalise" game at the last Chicago GameDay. Once we got over the "this isn't how it's supposed to go," it wound up still being quite a bit of fun: we just went with "you're your own GM" and "you can do what you can do" as guidelines - but kept Secrets and Vulnerabilities. Having "I enjoy the taste of blood" around a demon-possessed sawmill = instant conflict. Unfortunately, the goal was to develop the idea of rotting NE backwater town-as-Vampire with sawmill as key Vampire weakness/strength - something that just didn't happen.

Ran the same set-up with the new moment sheet without any issue. Far more interesting than what I'd written originally, as a matter of fact.

And Ron's Diagram is most helpful. I even see one more thing that I wasn't quite getting...

Gregor Hutton

Our only stumbling block was my inability to read a clear thing in the text (at a couple of places too!) at the table. I sadly don't have the excuse of drink either, as I was driving.

Anyway, I've been busy today but managed to transcribe all our Claims down.

Claudia, Daughter of Lucius
Married to Marcus Cato

The Library
Legate Maximus
Greek Fire

For the Confrontation I'm sure Russ dropped Children, and I dropped Marcus Catto (he seemed to be less relevant to my character's life by then!).

Claims were bolstered by our Reserves quite regularly. As Ron notes on his diagram they are cheaper to improve than Traits. (If we'd been reducing the traits as we should have then I think the effect would have been to send some Reserves to improving Traits and we'd have been tempted to bring in more Claims. But that's a hunch.)

As you can see we didn't bring in the full number of Claims on each scene, typically 2 per scene rather than 3 or more. Also some of the pre-generated ones were the ones we felt less strongly about (I think this is natural and they're there as a crutch to get you started.): Russ seemed uninterested in the Children one, I used the fact I was Marcus Cato's husband once but he was soon well down my list of interests! While Joe did make use of both Claudia and Smoke he also took a keener interest in the Forum/Market.

I wish I'd noted down how many coins we had on each one for the Confrontation. I feel mine were mostly on Mountain and Gold. Russ' were mostly on Alcohol and had he grabbed the Forum/Market from Joe when it became a free Claim? Joe's were on Smoke and Greek Fire, with a couple of Coins on Claudia too from what I recall.

Gregor Hutton

I have some other notes to transcribe for this.

We had some NPCs I wrote out on a sheet:

Victor the Phoenician, who was the trader at the market. He succeeded in parting Glaukos from his pendant.
Maximus, a Legate, who was an old flame (rekindled) of Publia.
Cassius and Augustus, who were Lucius' sons
The two children Aeolus and Cornelia, who didn't come into play though we defined them when talking about Glaukos.

Claudia, not written down, as she was a Claim (and is Lucius' daughter).


I want to talk about a turn on Achievement and Consequences in detail. I'll probably get to this first. I liked the one where Russ got a result "he could live with" and he declined to go aorund for another time. Taking what was on the table rather than allowing Joe and I to influence the result any more with our Claims.


I also want to talk a little about the "crunch" too. It's funny we've just played A Taste For Murder, where Joe wanted more crunch than that game has. Whereas he felt that Annalise, which we played a few weeks before had more crunch than he expected. (I'd like to know where Joe is on the crunch level.) I feel that it has the look and feel of a hand-wavey thing but it's deceptive. It has a lot of levers and pulleys, but it holds them in a lighter way than a lot of games. You can use the levers without the lever forcing you to use it, if that makes sense (I'm thinking of the "Give In" to the Vampire for example). It's also got intricacy in the resolution of Achievements and Consequences.