early gmless gaming

There is one game I can think of that’s really purely gm-less. That is, there is (usually, when it’s done right) no single source or mediator for the story. There is no pre-planning. There’s no session zero developing characters or setting. Rather a narrative develops straight from a group of peoples’ brains with no particular mechanism for scene framing, risk, or conflict resolution and everyone is totally equal in participation.

When I was a kid, my mother and her sister and their friends would gather around the table with a wine glass and some strips of paper. My father would be absent — he wanted nothing to do with this though whether the event originated because he was out playing poke anyway or whether he played poker so as to not be there for it I can’t say. I never asked him about it and I can’t now. Or can I?

Anyway, a table, an inverted wine glass and a circle of paper scraps with letters and numbers, a yes, and a no. Yup, a “ouija board”. I don’t think I found out you could just buy one at the store for years. And I doubt that the timing with the release of The Exorcist was a coincidence.

So my other and my aunt and sometimes myself would settle our fingers on the base of the inverted wine glass and it would stutter and eventually move. When this gag works there is no sense that anyone is moving the glass–it feels completely emergent, as though the source is somewhere else entirely. But it’s certainly not necessarily one person doing the moving — we gather this story together by a subtle form of consensus, letter by letter.

Ghosts! Goblins!

And the stories were weird. Sure there was the usual appearance from the recently dead and related, but far more often the story was a pastiche of people and places and times and movies and novels and bullshit that bears a striking familiarity to me now. The stories were closer to soap opera than literature. To myth, perhaps, or folklore anyway. So we’d speak with long dead highwaymen who missed their dog and gather together amongst us the bizarre tale, which would meander improbably and end nowhere in particular. We’d speak with South American smugglers who met a bad end, family members who we always just knew were up to shenanigans during the war, and queens of lands not really accurately recalled who met tragic composite ends stitched together from imagination, historical novels, and Charleton Heston biblical sagas.

They were stories told by us to each other as a group with no real leadership nor mediation. And we creeped ourselves out a good deal. Were they role-playing games? Sorta. Were they story games? No question.

certain death and perception checks

Consider this scenario. I’ve seen it more than once so I think it might be interesting.

As ref, you describe a place that will definitely kill the characters if they enter. You don’t intend the adventurers to go in there — it’s just an illustration of the capriciousness of the owner. The adventure is somewhere else. So, say: the open archway is completely clear of sand, unlike where you’re standing outside of it. And right inside are the skeletons of three people who are dressed just like the people you know were exploring here last night. It looks like they crossed the threshold and died instantly then decomposed over at most a few hours.

From my perspective as ref I have made it totally clear that this path is barred. What I am selling here is the death of the friends not a puzzle. However, players will usually see a puzzle. So:

“I want to go inside and see what happened.”

Hmm, okay. It’s certain death. That doesn’t sound like fun. How about we tie a roll to it?

“Hrm okay. Let’s have a KNOW check then.”

Now this requires elaboration. The player may well think that failure means you don’t KNOW what’s going on. Success means you KNOW what’s going on. But this doesn’t lead anywhere interesting. I dunno means they go ahead and die. I know means I reveal it’s insoluable and the move on. Neither are very fun sounding. And what RISK would I apply here? Fail and die and also trigger a risk? Seems weird. Succeed and you can’t go there but also trigger a risk? Mmmmmaybe, sure. Success with no risk? It’s a hard success to celebrate so, hmmm, no.

And it fails to address the misunderstanding between ref and player. It maybe reveals it. So instead: explain the misunderstanding (you are humans, you can do this) and consider what the player really wants: they don’t want to know whether they can enter. They want to enter.

This reframes the player’s position in the context of the roll as “Do I KNOW how to enter safely?” At this point as ref I would be confident saying:

Risk is REVELATION (because I have an idea — the revelation will be that on entering you get the eternal enmity of the owning god but we won’t say that out loud right away).

Don’t piss off the ibis god. You won’t like them when they’re angry.

Fail is death. You KNOW you can just enter. But you can’t. This is extreme but we’ve already established in the narrative that it’s lethal. Say it out loud. The player can still decide against acting. They want to enter but given the evidence maybe it’s wiser not to try. Not only will they die, but thanks to the risk their they die entering and the god (which in this actual case the players need to continue the path they’ve chosen) hates them.

Success with risk means that the revelation happens and the character knows away around the certain death. This is the divergence from the main narrative that risk tends to produce.

Success without risk means that the character knows a way around the certain death and the ref should narrate at will with this new direction. The god is apparently fine with this.

What I take away from this is that revelatory checks should do more than just reveal a fact. They should acknowledge the further intention of the player — what do they want to do with that knowledge — and play with that instead.

This post is brought to you by my patrons.


resolution as narrative

Sometimes the resolution system in a game is the game. You spend most of the time resolving or trying to get to the point where you have to resolve. You’re looking for a fight, for skill checks, for conflicts. And these conflicts largely define the play — the narrative is a string of resolution rolls and their interpretation.

Soft Horizon, I just realized today, doesn’t operate that way. The meat of the system, the thing that drives moment-to-moment play is in fact the interpretation of oracles. The nature of community relations and their bearing on the characters. And critically, the debts that characters owe to other entities. This is not present as a roll, as a check, but rather is underlying the ad lib work the ref is doing.

That’s a Juan Ochoa original. See previous post. Thanks Juan.

What the system provides instead is pivot points: places where things go where the ref wasn’t expecting. When a risk is realized it creates a design space for the ref: you must now decide how this risk realization changes the direction of play. Some are automatic — if someone is HARMED they take a WOUND and they will want to resolve that before anything else. The direction of the narrative pivots around their self-interest to get rid of the hindrance on their character.

More nuanced is COST — the character now has a DEBT to an entity. They owe them something and until it’s resolved, the character is often at a disadvantage. This is really a quest mechanism except as ref you are going to have to think it up on the fly. Where your narrative path was heading one way, now a character needs it to go another and so off you go. A pivot. A hinge.

It’s very hard to railroad anyone in this. The pivot points aren’t entirely up to you.

All of the risks (except the runt of the litter, INEFFECTIVENESS) are roughly like this. While only HARM and COST have a mechanical bearing, let’s look at the rest.

SPILLOVER creates a moral debt on the player not a mechanical debt on the character. Someone or something that shouldn’t have been harmed has been harmed and it’s the fault of the player’s character. The player will often feel compelled to fix this because being a fuck up stings extra when someone else gets hurt. Players that don’t feel this moral tug will be less likely to turn this into a pivot. Players that do will often use more energy to fix it than they would trying to fix a mechanical DEBT.

CONFUSION turns the situation from clear, directed action to unclear, undirected action. It pivots travel into study. It pivots combat into reconnaissance. What you knew is no longer certain. You’re lost. You don’t know who the enemy is. Something that made sense is wrong. It diverts action into search, movement into thought.

REVELATION forces the ref to invent a new hook, to bring in new information that they probably didn’t plan to bring in. Maybe that valuable thing isn’t really valuable. Maybe that uninteresting NPC is profoundly important. The narrative landscape changes. Again, the ref can’t really plan for this since it derives from the conflict which derives from play. This is huge creative space for the ref to pivot the whole narrative, revealing a deeper truth than what was previously thought to be complete.

WASTE creates a scarcity that wasn’t there before. You’re travelling from A to B and in the middle you run out of fuel. Or food. Or ammunition. This pivots the narrative to the story of either re-supply or living without.

DELAY makes something the players were going to encounter pass by. Got a meeting with the mayor? You missed it and that has repercussions. Trying to get to the airship dock before your ride leaves? You blew it, now what? Trying to get out of town before the invading force breeches the wall? No luck, you’re now in the thick of the invasion. It pivots away from an expected rendezvous and into whatever happens if you miss it. The creative space here is relatively small but easy. And the pivot is no less extreme than the others — everything can change by missing a vital appointment.

So the system provides pivot points and you don’t need a lot of these to make the narrative run like hell. One or two a session is fine — any more than that and you probably want to lean on the less disruptive ones occasionally, INEFFECTIVENESS say, just to rein in the chaos. Or, you know, go nuts. Embrace it.

Is it weird that one of the things that eases my anxiety as ref is to be forced to ad lib in specific ways? I find it makes detailed prep irrelevant, which means it’s very hard to show up unprepared. That’s where my anxiety is alleviated.

trusting the ref too much

Here’s a thing that happened in a game once (many many years ago — we may have just cracked open the box on a the freshly published Twilight:2000) that I never ever want to happen again.

IMG_0419 (1).pngThe characters were captured by some bad guys. Insert cool imagery here (I think it was a beached supertanker re-purposed as a fortress). Guards come and point to one of the characters. “You, come with me. It’s time for your execution.”

The player nods. “Okay I go with them.”

“The guards lead you down the makeshift steps — very rickety. What do you do?”

“Go with them.”

“You emerge suddenly into sunlight. It’s dazzling. Everyone covers their eyes for a moment to get used to it. What do you do?”

“I wait.”

“They tie you to a post and shoot you.”

What the fuck happened here?!

A bunch of things. As ref I thought I gave several opportunities for action to get out of this but the player never bit. Looking back on it now I see exactly why.

First, the player trusted the ref and did not believe the character would be killed so ridiculously. But the ref (me) had switched gears. This was serious business and there were ways out, but the player had to act and to take a risk. The player didn’t act because they didn’t get that this was their moment. They thought the moment to act would be later and trusted me not to kill them before their chance. To my mind, once we had poor Tim tied to the post, there was no way not to kill him. It was the stated intention, game mechanism would not longer save him (we weren’t going to roll hit and damage for a firing squad), and I felt bound to follow through.

Second, it was a system where the ref sets difficulty levels and the player assumed that at each possible action point the player decided action was riskier than inaction. They didn’t know what the difficulty would be and made an assumption. Based on prior gaming with me, for sure. But they didn’t know, they didn’t ask, and I didn’t offer. Because that’s how we played games then!

Third, the words “what do you do?” had no culture associated. It’s not a phrase that the rules command you to say to indicate you are expecting action. It’s just words in a conversation. It has no weight. I intended it to have weight but for that to happen we’d have had to have a discussion about it and agree on that. And frankly none of us were that self-aware about our gaming to realize that that was even what was happening.

Finally, everyone knew I fudged the dice. They were reasonably sure I would fake a bad roll at the critical moment and let them squeak out. But I had no more rolls to roll, in my mind.

Now there are things you can do about this without changing the rules, but they all involve changing the people and changing people is bullshit. You could say “well, players should be more proactive”. What if they aren’t? You could say “well, players should ask about difficulty levels and possible actions”. What if they don’t? Should the game just fail embarrassingly (and it did — the player was pissed, I was flustered, and we stopped early)?

How about we change the rules instead?

If difficulties are fixed then the player knows what’s what.

If the risks have to be declared then the player can make substantive choices.

If the ref never rolls dice then the ref never fudges dice.

If the culture is that the question “what do you do?” invites concrete (go to the dice) action then the cues are real cues and not just part of a conversation that might only be conversational.

So in some ways the Soft Horizon system is designed to heal this 25 year old wound.

There are no difficulties. What changes when you roll is the risk, not the difficulty. When you roll you already know the odds of success and the ref has already communicated (in a vague way) the risk of failure (or imperfect success). As player you already know you can succeed.

The ref never rolls.

“What do you do?” is codified in the text. This is what you say when you expect the players to act. Maybe not go to the dice, but certainly narrate something pro-active, something that progresses their interests. It’s a declaration that what the player says next is important.

Yeah I stole all this from smarter people. I’m not proud. It works.

the first rule of design club

I want a new club. It’s really an old club but let’s not talk about that. It’s a club of game designers that welcomes fresh faces. It’s not a club about game play or play styles. Just about design. If you agree with these principles, you’re already a member of design club.

it’s not about play style

It’s about design. We don’t critique play style. Sure you have to talk about play style because of the next rule but we’re not here to decide which play style is “best”. We’re certainly not here to talk about which play style you hate. We’re here to talk about design.

You can divorce your tastes from your ability to analyze design.

design deliberately

Rules exist for a reason. Yes all of them. So yes, you need to know what play style you want. Intimately even. You need to know that so that you can write rules that accomplish that goal. You as a design club member agree to talk sensibly and supportively and productively about how a rule helps achieve a goal even if you think the goal sucks. This is a technical exercise not an emotional one. I even expect you to go ahead and test a rules or set of rules that create a play style you hate and earnestly help people understand whether it does what they want and even how to get to the place they want.

Even if you don’t personally want to go there.

Part of designing deliberately is (perhaps gradually) shedding the urge to cargo cult. This is when you copy someone elses work in the hope that it does what you want rather than through understanding how it functions. We strive for deliberate design: each rule helps serve the greater purpose. Intentionally.

play or sit down

So much design discussion sits in a hypothetical state for a lot longer than it needs to. And when it hits the table it can be a shock. So be prepared to talk about how your proposed design plays, especially if you already have 300 pages of it. Let’s not hypothesize about how it might play, not in design nor in critique, but rather let’s test the shit out of our games, even if it’s alone, and find out how it plays.
How it might play is bullshit. How does it actually play?

I’ve talked before about methods for doing this. One is scaffolding, where you build just enough rough game around a rule to test it. Another is to create a play example: write the interaction between players in detail as though it was transcribed from the table. This is imperfect because there’s not really play going on, but you will find that this runs under a different simulator in your head than the one you use to write rules. And this simulator is way better at finding problems. In fact I often discover that my example deviates from my rules as I instinctively house rule the system I haven’t finished writing. Making examples is super powerful.

The problem with this is that someone’s already making this club. As soon as I had these principles formed in my head as bullet points, someone else I trust announced they were making a club like this. They are working out rules of interaction, a code of conduct. I was working out a purpose. So if we link up and are actually doing the same thing, I’ll let you know about that.

But in the meantime, even without a particular space to communicate, you can be part of this club. You know the rules.

intense play in sand dogs

Yeah we had some intense play and some interesting flexing of the rules yesterday. Here are some high points. I’m paraphrasing in all cases:

Scene: our heroes have come to the edge of a clearing as they track their nemesis, Harrison. From cover they see Harrison and three flunkies talking to two bug monsters (bug monsters so far have been very friendly) and the bugs have weapons on Harrison et al.

Toph: I approach under a white flag offering to explain the situation.

Me: Hmm, okay, well that’s clearly SOCIALIZE…

Toph: No, I don’t want to explain the situation. I’m trying to get close enough to murder Harrison.

Me: Ah. Normally I’d call that VIOLENCE but I think here what’s really important is the deception. So MISCHIEF. And the risk is CONFUSION.

So what’s interesting here? Well, obviously the first thing is that the actual intent of the player wasn’t stated clearly at first and so there was some necessary back and forth to get at the nub of the action. This is good: there are conflicting instincts at play. On the one hand you want your text to be a good read, to be poetic, and to preserve secrets until the last moment. But also you want to be absolutely clear what method to bring to bear. So we go back and forth a little to get there.

One of Harrison’s punks, now defunct.

So Toph’s character Jesus gets close enough and rams their strange artifact, the “pliant fuzz” down Harrison’s throat. The power and function of an alien artifact is mostly narrative: it’s incomprehensible, it has some properties that are absurd but well defined. The rest is in the hands of the players. So they can inexplicably serve the narrative already established by the dice with complete freedom. Here’s what’s certainly true about the pliant fuzz: its mass is much much higher than it should be and it’s dangerous. The results when successfully murdering someone with it are spectacular (and cause CONFUSION since that risk was realized): Harrison dies horribly, the fuzz explodes all over things, those with guns all open fire, grenades go off, everyone runs for cover.

Fun stuff.

The next point that was illuminating was when Dune’s character Duarte opens fire with an alien gun on Harrison’s remaining cohorts. He knows nothing about the gun and it has 3d6 — that means you get a lot of dice but they all kind of suck. There’s a lot of room for risks to get realized but also succeed.

Dune: I fire the vegetable gun at Harrison’s men! I wonder what it does?

Me: Okay that’s VIOLENCE obviously, with a risk of CONFUSION [I figure the gun is noisy and makes a lot of vapour].

Dune: [rolls dice and gets success with risk]

Now this is part of a montage and I’m juggling the actions of three different people roughly at the same time. I realize at this point that another character’s action is much better if it risks CONFUSION and that Dune’s action is obviously better risking SPILLOVER.

Me: I think SPILLOVER is better here actually. You open fire and there is a huge eruption of noise and vapour. Thousands of 15cm quills are launched into the clearing killing all of Harrison’s men and one of the two bug people.

Dune: Oh no!

I goofed. I shouldn’t change the risk after the roll since declaring the risk is an opportunity for the character to change their actions. And the players are really fond of the bug people so this result is actually quite traumatic. It’s also a really powerful and unexpected twist in the story which is exactly what the system is supposed to deliver.

So if there was an X-Card on the table I wouldn’t have been too concerned — I would expect Dune to tap it if this was unacceptable (which would have been totally reasonable either because it was too cruel or because I got the rules twisted up). But we don’t generally play with one in this particular group (there is already a very high level of trust) so I am a little on eggshells over this result. What to do?

Talk it out. I explain the problem. We talk about X-Cards. Dune assures me that he doesn’t need an X-Card in order to tell me to back the fuck up — that is, we do have an X-Card in that everyone agrees they are fine with stopping play at any time if it goes down a path they are not cool with.

Relief. I thought we had that relationship but I haven’t clarified it. Clarifying it takes a load off me: we actually do play with the X-Card just not literally and I didn’t know for sure we did. Now I do. And I also know now that if I ever run a con game or otherwise set up for people I don’t know, I will use the X-Card at least because it starts that conversation before it’s necessary.

You can get Sand Dogs when it’s ready. It’s one of a series of games set in the multiverse of the Soft Horizon, and you can get the first one, The King Machine, now.

i made a mistake

In one of my recent Sand Dogs playtests I made a grave error.

Our heroes got lost in the desert and suffered from a risk realised: HARM. The realisation was that they all suffered from sunstroke from the extended time exposed to the elements. They each get a WOUND: sunstroke. That was fine.

An appropriate Soft Horizon wound gives you a real problem to solve.

The mistake was I decided that realistically, once they found water and shade they were fine. This completely undermined the system, which depends on a WOUND being a significant drawback and requiring time and narration to resolve since its resolution introduces a SCAR which is a net benefit.

I was still thinking old school, still cheating to move the narrative towards success, towards the existing established goals. The system doesn’t reward that. It rewards leaning into the problem, dealing with disaster. I should have made the WOUND worse to keep myself from doing this: dying from exposure, maybe.

The result of my error is that a potentially interesting problem which needed solving and would divert the narrative in a new direction got trivialized in order to let me pursue the existing narrative. And the result of that was that play sputtered for a bit unnecessarily and, worse, the players were deprived of a new twist to handle.

Those twists are the beating heart of Soft Horizon game play.

So I had a session that I felt a lot of stress starting because it didn’t start anywhere interesting and that’s a failure because reducing my stress is exactly why I wrote this system the way I did. I undermined my own solution to make me and no one else happy! Old habits are so very hard to break.

So don’t do that. Lean into it. If the dice say things are awful, make them awful. That’s what’s supposed to happen.

sand dogs playtest

I released the first playtest draft of Sand Dogs the other day, though for a while it’s available only to patrons. But what exactly do I expect from a playtest?

Well this is pretty late in the metaphorical game. The mechanical aspects are largely already complete and delivered in The King Machine, released in September. So for the core mechanisms of the game I’m not looking for input. And really, for a public playtest I wouldn’t be looking for that anyway. I split playtest into two distinct categories and the mechanical tinkering I do with people I know and love and trust completely. Now you, dear reader, I love as well, but I don’t really know you and so I can’t really trust you. I think you’re wonderful but I don’t know who you are.

What you can do, however, is even more important because I cannot trust people I know and love and trust to do it because they already know how the game works. I need other people to tell me if the text works.

This could be you!

This is impossible for me to do because as I read I fill in gaps with stuff in my head. If something’s missing I may never spot it. If things are not in a useful order, hell how would I know, I only see one page at a time and I’ve seen them all a thousand times already. For me the text is a giant amorphous mass and not a sequence of instructions. For this step we need fresh eyes.


That’s you. Really that’s nearly everyone that’s not me.

So if you grab a copy of Sand Dogs here’s what you can do that’s valuable to me:

Read it. I mean, obviously, right? I need it read. If you read it, take a moment to tell me whether it made sense, whether you had unanswered questions. Often at this time I get a lot of lists of typos — that’s super valuable as well, but not exactly what I need. I need to know if the text delivers a game and if so which game (so I can compare with my intentions). Step one is, does it make enough sense to sit down and try to play?

Play it. Well, we call it playtesting for a reason I guess. If you play it I want to know things like, did you have to go back to the text? What for? And most importantly, were you able to find what you needed? Easily? These things really come out in play because when you’re confused about a game in play it’s urgent and that’s when the text’s organization needs to lead you in the right direction. People talk about “rules getting out of the way” and this is not what they mean but this is more important: do the physical representation of the rules (the book) get out of the way and let you find the information you need and know is hidden in there somewhere? The text is a teaching tool first, but forever afterwards it’s a reference and it needs to succeed in both roles. Does it?

Or this. When it’s done.

Talk about it. Genuinely independent games (by which I mean a one or two dedicated losers like myself doing everything to get the game to print by themselves) need word of mouth to survive. If you love it, please in the name of all that’s holy, talk about it. If you only just like it, talk about it and talk about what you would improve. If you don’t like it, talk about it and especially talk about what you like and don’t like. No matter how you feel, talk about it: it will make it better and it will get it heard about. Visibility (I know I mixed a metaphor: sue me) is so very hard to get. You are how it happens.

Tell me about it. I need to know. I put it out there for my own nefarious purposes and not just as a patronage perq.

Thanks fiends. I genuinely think the Soft Horizon series is the best work I’ve ever done. It’s for grown ups. It’s fun. It’s sandboxish. It’s weird. It’s easy and fast. And it works online.

And I love you. I wouldn’t steer you wrong.

sand dogs actual play session three

Only got in an hour before a headache defeated me. Still, nice conclusion to build on next week!

Brad: So! Jesus and Hoberman are sitting on top of a pyramid poking a hovering metallic sphere while Duarte is walking the perimeter and spots incoming vehicles. Some cars and three buses. Looks like the work crew is returning. Anyone recollect any details they want to make sure we recall?

JB: Pretty sure we had decided it’s time to go.

Dune: There are advancing unknowns.

Brad: What do you do?

JB: “Let’s get the hell out of here!” I am scrambling down to get to our vehicle

Dune: I fire up our ride.

JB: Did we find some fuel?

Dune: “Where to?” (Like a taxi driver)

Brad: Yes, plenty of fuel and water

Jesus: “YOu sure we want to abandon this great loca—” (watches Hoberman skid down the pyramid). “Oh.” Jesus follows him down and looks for a grenade launcher, or SMG

JB: “Well we could lay an ambush but not from up there. They’ve probably already seen us.”

Toph: “Yeah, yeah”

Brad: You have whatever you took with you when you fled the other fight. Some small arms, nothing special (nothing Lootworthy). Feel free to describe your rapidly scavenged weapons.

Dune: Same ol’ handgun for Duarte.

Toph: Jesus runs out to the shed with the radio, and finds a spear-gun that the last radio operator had used when on leave and sport fishing. There were three javelins nearby, each with fishing line attached. Jesus leaves the photo of the Marlin being held by its tail, a trophy from a forgotten cruise years before.

Brad: haha; Okay that’s a surreal vignette on this desert world but we’ll run with it.

Dune: i love it

Brad: Let’s say, and it hints at the Soft Horizon, that you have no idea what that marlin thing is or why it was caught in a reservoir.

Dune: You can’t see the gorilla, but the hand holding the line is awful hairy?

JB: Yeahhhhh

Brad: Or for that matter what the hell a speargun is for. Someone at this camp was a planewalker!

Toph: heh, I just see a weapon

Dune: Anyways, if we want to set up an ambush, we should drive the car in an obvious direction and cut them off as they pass in pursuit.

Brad: The vehicles are getting closer. They don’t look like military vehicles. No mounted weapons and no armour.

Dune: cut them off with some off-vehicle ambushers.

Brad: Car’s not drivable as I recall — no tires.

Dune: oh we have no vehicle then? is our ride further away (i recall hopping off and walking to the pyramid)

Brad: You just have the motorcycle & sidecar

Dune: (but i also assumed we retrieved it when we set up camp for the evening) yeah that one… let’s roll!

Brad: Duarte runs for the motorcycle as Jesus emerges from the shed with the speargun, looking at it quizzically. But fondly.

Dune: I would like to observe for signs of allegiance.

Brad: You have maybe 5 minutes before the convoy arrives. Dune: markings you mean? On the motorcycle?

Dune: I mean the convoy… any way to determine who they’re with? where they’re from? We can already see it’s non-military. makes, symbolism, formation?

Brad: The buses bear not so much a military marking as a logo. Commercial maybe? You don’t recognize it.

Dune: I think we should spy on them. I can drive the car away, but I’d like to know what they’re up to. Either of you feel sneaky and lucky enough to not get caught?

Brad: 5 minutes: where do you want to be when they arrive?

Dune: (car meaning moto and sidecar)

Toph: I’ve got the radio.  Jesus suggests hiding near the perimeter fence, on the inside.

Brad: Radio is heavy — think 1930s military. It would be a hard haul on a backpack but can be stored in the sidecar.

Toph: “If you guys set up a distraction, we can see how they react. Maybe chase you for a bit.  It’ll be interesting to see what they choose to protect.”

Dune: We’ll take the radio in the sidecar and listen to the airwaves.

Toph: can I have a transistor or something from it

Dune: (or wait did you mean to take the radio with you?)

Toph: The can wrapped with wire?

JB: “That’s a cute stratagem.”

Brad: You can pull a vacuum tube from the radio, T

Dune: “No time to waste, revs…” (oops that “revs” wasn’t supposed to be in-quote)

Toph: The Jesus, vacuum tube in his satchel pocket, goes and buries/conceals himself near the perimeter, but with an eye on the door of the Radio room.

Brad: Okay I have Jesus concealed by the fence, Duarte on the bike, … Hoberman?

JB: Um I guess I’ll hide behind a bush. Or, yeah, in the car upon blocks

Dune: nice… I’m already zooming away… [dust trail]

I just love the trucks in Sorceror.

Brad: The vehicles arrive — a couple of beaten up Benz jeeps, a roadster, and three buses — trucks really — with huge grills.

JB: That is indeed a mighty grill

Brad: The trucks are covered flatbeds. The cars stop and a handful of people spill out in good desert garb, not military, but certainly expiditionary. They have handguns.

JB: Well that’s not ideal

Brad: One has some kind of huge smoothbore shotgun, probably single shot. Two of them pull the cover off the first flatbed revealing a dozen people in work clothes. And chains. What do you do?

Toph: (no one chased the dust trail? Jesus continues to watch)

JB: What kind of arms do I have? I don’t remember

Brad: Ah thanks for the cue! One of the men shouts and points at the dust trail.

Dune: I look over my shoulder. Any pursuers?

Brad: The woman with the shotgun raises a pair of dainty opera glasses to her eyes. Says something to the others.

Dune: (perhaps a spear handed to you by Jesus lol) (or more likely a shotgun)

Brad: They start putting the cover back on the truck. What do you do?

Toph: (there’s one flatbed or two with slaves?)

Dune: dozen(s?) oh mb i meant a dozen slaves in one at least

Brad: Two flatbeds, a dozen revealed in the first

Toph: Jesus continues to watch.

JB: HOw many are the slavers?

Brad: They cover up the flatbed again and the shotgunner yells some orders you can’t here. (5 JB)

JB: OK, I am trying to signal to . . . Jesus is here, right?

Brad: One of the others goes to the tool shed and swears loud enough to hear.

JB: CAn I like flash at him with a mirror?

Brad: Yes Jesus is here nearby — behind you. You’re in the broken car.

Dune: Jesus is there.

Brad: Sure

JB: BAsically signalling “let’s go” – I think we can take them.

Brad: One of the slavers takes a compass bearing pointing towards Duarte’s rooster tail of sand.

Toph: Jesus springs up and sprints towards the flatbed. The speargun is loaded, and he’s going to take a single shot at the woman with the opera glasses, and then he’s going to hop into the flatbed that is being covered up (the driver is no doubt helping with this, process, and will have left the cab door open). If the keys are there, he’ll drive away. With the slaves.

JB: Shit. OK, I’ll uh, work with that.

Brad: Sounds like VIOLENCE

JB: I’ll cover Jesus, then head towards his position .Yuuup

Brad: and your goal is to steal the truck?

JB: And I am awesome with this soup wound. Heck I’ll try to steal the other truck

Brad: Risk is spillover, Toph. Big bore on that shotgun. Anyone helping?

Toph: (what were you signalling? If only there was a way to send more than a basic “go” with a mirror flash)

Brad: Just the d10 then?

Toph: (dust trail to distract and deplete?)

Dune: i don’t know if my dust trail counts as help but it’s certainly providing a bit of distraction

JB: I’m helping with my own VIOLENCE

Dune: i think it makes sense to combine their efforts and consequences >shrug<

Brad: Hoberman shouts useful instructions for a d6. Maybe not that helpful.

Toph: Violence.

JB: Uh I”m down on physical stuff still. What’s a d6 minus a step?

Brad: No I think they’re ignoring the dust trail as soon as the violence starts. JB: nothing

mechanical: roll VIOLENCE with help from KNOW->VIOLENCE to steal the truck

Toph rolls d10 and gets 6.

JB: Right then. Sorry

Brad: But you can have the d6 violence from knowledge

Toph: ok

Dune: agreed

JB: Just running for that other truck I guess. Oh, right. OK

JB rolls 1d6 and gets 5.

Brad: Not that it matters.

JB: OMG not terrible

Dune: hah

Toph: SO with spillover, I succeed and JB gets shot, right? 😀

JB: (-‸ლ)

Dune: 😀

mechanical: 6 means the spillover risk is realised. Ref must improvise the result!

Brad: Jesus leaps from cover and fires the speargun at Opera Glasses. It hits her center chest and she swivels trying to figure out what’s happening while pulling the trigger on her punt gun. It blows her driver in half and shears through the bonnet of one of the flatbeds. Steam erupts.

JB: Well that’s two down

Brad: Duarte you hear a huge firearm report from the camp. Still charging, Jesus makes it to the wheel of (which vehicle?) Hoberman makes for his own vehicle muttering something about going for a headshot to avoid accidental fire from the shotgun.

Dune: I do a cool 180 maneuver. (it’s not at all cool, actually lumbering and awkward) Heading back into action.

JB: The other truck with human chattel in it

Brad: You nearly spill the Ural — this is not a maneuverable bike with an empty sidecar — but get around and head back at top speed. JB you’re behind the wheel of one slaver transport. The other is disabled. Toph where are you?

JB: Any guns in there?

Toph: I was heading for the one that had been uncovered. It’s now disabled?

Brad: Yes you reach it and it’s screwed. One tire is out, the radiator is blown out, and it’s covered in blood.

Toph: In that case, I head for the roadster, f it’s empty.

JB: I’ll start up the truck and see if I can ram anything the bad guys are using

Brad: One of the remaining slavers runs for the shed. The other two are trying to figure out what the hell is happening, drawing their pistols.

JB: Also bellowing at them to surrender “STAND DOWN AND YOU WON’T BE HARMED” Not very believable I guess

Brad: The truck starts up smooth, JB. You immediately drive over one of the Benz jeeps, crumpling  the rear half under the massive truck. There’s shouting from the flatbed behind you.

JB: Hee hee hee

Brad: Jesus reaches the roadster, a nice open topped vehicle made for straight well-paved roads.

JB: Once I think the bad guys’ escape is cut off I’ll see if I can’t free the people in the truck

Brad: Duarte arrives, taking a little jump over the dune by the gate.

Dune: awesome

JB: so cool

Brad: The remaining slavers are totally confused and upset. The two outside the shed drop their guns and put their hands on their heads like they are familiar with a stop by the Desert Police.

Toph: KEys in it? If not, hides behind it.

Brad: The last one is still holed up in the shed. What do you do?

Toph: I’ve got the vacuum tube, so the radio’s out.

Brad: Smart

Dune: I’ll drive up and collect the weapons from the surrenderers.

JB: OK, I”ll dismount the truck, keeping the keys (if it uses them).

Brad: JB, you said you were releasing the human cargo — you look in and realize they are probably safer from the sun under the cover than standing in the heat. But you find a key from one of the slavers to take off the long chain that loops through all their foot bindings. There is no sound from the shed.

JB: I ask them to stay here until we know it’s safe, but that they are free

Brad: Duarte has the two surrendered slavers face down in the sand, disarmed. “Been free before, mate.”

JB: “yeah, it’s no picnic”

Toph: Jesus notices the abcence of gunfire and pokes his head up. He walks towards the others.

Dune: “That was easy. Is that everyone?”

JB: “There’s one holed up in the shed, I think.” “Wow, Jesus, you made one hell of a mess. Impressive.” “What the hell is that gun anyway?” I assume the hurt people are dead people?

Dune: “Hey, You. In the shed. Come outta there!”

Brad: Opera Glasses is still and glassy eyed. The one hit by the punt gun is in two pieces.

Toph: DOn’t know, but the spears have strings attached. He points to the one he left trailing behind him, and currently tying opera gLasses to the dune buggy.

Brad: No sound from the shed.

Dune: I’ll approach the shed and take a spot with at least partial cover and a view of the door.

Toph: “Come on out, or we drive the truck over the shed.”

Brad: No sound from the shed.

JB: “Damnit.”

Dune: I pick up one of the hostages from the ground. Go open the door and tell your friend to come out.One wrong move and we blast ya.

Toph: Once the slaves are off the flatbed, Jesus goes over and starts an engine.

Brad: The slaver, pants wet with fear, goes to the shed and opens the door. He turns back to you. “It’s empty.”

Dune: Gesture for them to go back to the ground and then I’ll head into the shed to investigate.

mechanical: hint at the soft horizon ref move

Brad: The shed is empty. And the picture of the marlin is missing.