Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Go Play NW: Last Generation Actual Play

The Last of Us's soundtrack has this desolate, end-of-the-world but still actiony vibe to it that made me instantly pair it with Last Generation.

Friday has one game slot, 8pm-Midnight. I decided to go with the Donut (the GPNW version of a pitch circle - this was pretty much just a pitch circle since we didn't split it). I ended up going with a game called Last Generation, by Jeremy ("Jerry") Tidwell, run by the same. I played with Sylvia (if you know her last name please alert me so I can find her on G+), Joe Mcdaldno, and Pat Kemp. Jerry just facilitated it rather than playing - we couldn't have done it without him though. The game is currently playtesting - this is Playtest Version 3.5. Here, I'll walk you through the basics of the game in condensed forms.

Last Generation is an Apocalyptic game. Not post-apocalyptic, but about the actual end of humanity. It is set in the 1930s, when The Dustbowl began to appear and sweep over places. However, in this alternate 1930s, The Dust is not just a storm, but a psychic confluence of self-destruction, breaking the rules of reality and causing supernatural events, but most importantly its influence brings out the worst side of someone, exaggerating their traits to implosion. The players are Angels, a small group of people who are immune to the Dust and can read the past and present of people and restore Hope to communities, perhaps forestalling the Dust or letting people live out their final days in relative happiness. The ultimate ruling, however, is that no matter what the apocalypse cannot be stopped, Angels or no.

Mechanically, the game is GMless. We have pregenerated characters with a single important decision to to make that will decide our past response to a trauma. We collectively build 5 Pillars, or townspeople that are the focal points for saving the fate of the town. They are the people the Angels want to save. We then take turns playing scenes. On your turn, you select a Pillar to play. The player to your right will be the Angel in this scene, and the player to your left will represent the Dust. The Angel and the Dust have small hands of cards (specialized tarot created for the game) used to pace the scene and exert emphasis and truth on the Pillar. It acts as both a resolution mechanism ("does the Dust or the Angel have more influence on you?") and as a pacing mechanism (the scene ends when a player has played four of a suit). When four of a suit appear, Influences are awarded. There are three influences: *Provide the direction of the end of the scene, *Decide if the Angel gains a point of Hope, *Ask, but do not answer, a question about the character if you want. The winner of the scene gets first dibs on choosing which Influence they want. The person with the highest single card gets second choice (it can be the same person). The Pillar gets the remaining Influence. If the Angel won, the Pillar gets a point of Hope. If the Dust won, the Pillar gets a point of Dust. The Pillars all start with 1 Dust.
After four scenes (one for each Angel) the Act ends and the Angels get together and discuss the progress and plan out what to do. There are three Acts normally, but only 2 in a con game. At the very end, Judgment happens. At Judgment, you look at the Pillars, and each one that has more Hope than Dust survives ("more" - ties go to Dust). If three Pillars survive, the town is saved from immediate destruction by the Dust. If less, the Pillars with more Hope than Dust still survive, the town is destroyed. Angels pool their Hope at the end and may spend it to add Hope to Pillars, 2 Angel Hope for 1 Pillar Hope.

Sound complicated? That's okay. It worked pretty good. And I haven't even explained the card mechanic for how to actually win scenes.  I'm not gonna, it's complex and much easier to play than to read.

So let's go through what happened in OUR game!

Joe as Estelle the Idealist!
Sylvia as Henry the Guilty!
Pat as Julius the Dutiful!
and me, Max/Ego, as Beryl the Prideful!
With Jerry Tidwell, designer of Last Generation, as Facilitator!

Each character had an established backstory, leading to an important choice (with three different paths). The player chooses one to determine their character's personality further. It was a cool idea, and I imagine it allows for the Angels to definitely have an Angel-worthy backstory while still providing some variation between sessions. We start with 1 Hope.
Estelle's best friend was a victim of abuse by her father, and Estelle, when her Angel powers manifested, confronted the father who left forever. The best friend has never forgiven her. She is 19, and Driven By Hope.
Henry was in love. He was a philanderer and asshole until he fell in love. One day, he came home to find his beloved in a pool of her own blood, having committed suicide. He is 2, and is Driven By Guilt.
Julius was a soldier. He found a youth in the trench prepared to shoot himself. He talked the kid down, but the Dust finished him off a week later, resulting in him hanging himself. He is 48, and is Driven By Duty.
Beryl was a psychiatrist, a miracle worker at curing shell-shock in the Great War. She had a perfect record until Walter, who was too far gone. She attempted to help but he burned down the hospital, leading Beryl to resign. She concluded that she should heeded those doubts, as her instincts are never wrong. She is 51, and is Driven By Pride.

Next we created the Pillars for this community. We started by drawing from the Tarot deck to determine Notable Traits. We got "Blind To Love", "Empty Platitudes", "Pronounced Limp", "Apprentice", and another that I don't recall but I don't think it ended up in one of our Pillars anyway. We then brainstorm character concepts for these traits and a few people they interact with, and then select five from all of them to be our Pillars. We got the Doctor's Intern, Troubled Spouse, Consoling Bartender, Crippled Veteran Sheriff Who Thinks He's Unlovable, and Alcoholic.
We drew another round of cards and this time looked at the names section - each card had a male and female name. We picked a character concept, and applied one of our names to it. We also make up an age. The Doctor's Intern became Andrew, 26. The Spouse became Martha, also 26. The Bartender became Earl, 62. The Sheriff became Lawrence, 50. The Alcoholic became Lena, 34.

Next we distributed the pillars more or less randomly. When it was our turn, the person to either side of us asked a question to flesh out the character. We then answered it as that Pillar.
Questions, Round One:
? Why didn't they figure out you're the one who killed her?
    Who would kill their own sister?
? Why does Virginia deserve the way you treat her?
    She abandoned me wehn I was a boy.
? What did your husband forget?
    Running bath water.
? What happened to your kids?
    Susie is with God, and Johnny found her.
Earl (I handled Earl for these answers):
? What makes you feel better about seeing people worse off than yourself?
    I can better their days.
? How did you gain your sexual prowess?
    Taking advantage of the drunk girls.
? Who did you destroy to make you think yourself unlovable?
    Mother, when he came back from the war.
? How does your injury manifest itself in your behavior?
    I exaggerate it, so nobody forgets.
? Other than booze, what do you waste your money on?
    My children.
? What's the one memory you'd kill to forget?
    The way his fingers felt when he brushed my hair gently off my face.

We then reshuffled so that none of us had the Pillar we were just holding and repeated the exercise. This time we could ask 1 or 2 questions, and at least one question on the page needed to have a positive tone. We then asnwered the established opening question: "My biggest immediate problem is..."
Questions, Round Two:
Andrew (I held Andrew this round):
? What do you do for patrons outside of your job description?
    I slip them the meds they need, under-the-table.
? What thing is happening to your body that is unexplainable by medical science.
    All my teeth and hair fell out.
* My biggest immediate problem is the addict blackmailing me for extra drugs.
? Where do you still feel happy?
    Playing piano.
? What color is your skin?
    Black with vitiligo.
* My biggest immediate problem is...unanswered! Since Jeremy wasn't playing as an angel he didn't answer this, which may have just been oversight.
? Why did you poison her drink?
    She said no.
? Who do you owe for your bar?
    My sister.
* My biggest immediate problem is...someone's been talking, and I don't know who.
? What memory keeps you from ending it all?
    Buying intimacy from Lucille.
? Why did you decide to keep your job as sheriff after the injury?
    Because I hate the guy who would have replaced me.
* My biggest immediate problem is... armed men, openly hostile, are in town.
? Why didn't the hourse brun down?
    I lost my nerve.
? What color is my hair?
* My biggest immediate problem is...my husband is back in town.

Every NPC starts with 1 Dust.
And that's the setup!

We then moved onto scenes. Every Angel will have one scene in each Act. When it is your turn, you choose a Pillar to play. The player to your right is the Angel for the scene, while the player to your right controls the Dust. Each of them is dealth a hand of cards. The Angel will play cards to drive points home, while the Dust will do the same to introduce self-doubt and further exaggerate the Pillar's flaws. Everything the Dust says is only in the Pillar's mind, and they believe it is themself thinking it, but the Angel can hear it as well. Scenes go until a four-card trick is on the board. If the Dust played it, they win and the Pillar gains 1 Dust, if the Angel played it then they win and the Pillars gains 1 Hope. The other effects of winning/Hope v Dust is up above.

Joe was the first Pillar, making me the Angel and Sylvia the Dust. Joe picked Lawrence. The Pillar frames the scene, and the Angel comes in. Until the Angel plays, the Dust can't talk.

In general, the game is extremely connected to the exact dialogue used rather than the broad strokes, which means I have some hard time recounting it - my memory's good, but it's not THAT good without a recording. The game IS, however, an Actual Play writer's dream because it has a mandatory step at the end of each scene where the Pillar writes down what happened on the sheet.
Lawrence was standing out by the front of town when Beryl came over the horizon. As she approached, Lawrence stopped her, warning her that visitors weren't very welcome right now. Learning that Beryl's a psychiatrist just sours her to him, and he's even less impressed that she doesn't seem to have money. I won the cards against the Dust however, so I got Influence. I took the point of Hope. The end of the scene went with Lawrence blowing me off but still letting me in, and directing me to go prove myself with the bandits outside town.
Joe asked, but did not answer: "What softens Lawrence?"

Next I was the Pillar, and I picked Andrew, making Joe the Dust and Pat the Angel Julius. Andrew was standing behind the clinic, with a bag of drugs waiting for his blackmailer. Julius stumbles upon him, and they talk, with Andrew trying to push Julius out of here and Julius trying to convince Andrew to stop. Julius tries to connect with him, but the Dust is making him feel like no one could possibly understand what he's going through. Eventually though, Pat won the cards, and chose to direct the ending. Andrew ends up going inside with Julius, leaving his blackmailer in the cold.
Pat did NOT get Hope from the scene since he did not have the highest card (giving the second Influence to the Dust). I did not ask a hypothetical question.

Now Pat was the Pillar, playing Earl, with Sylvia playing Henry the Angel and me as the Dust. Henry showed up as a big spender, buying a lot of drinks. He basically drinks the night away, talking to Earl and trying to appeal to him. But Earl's commntary is empty and meaningless. Henry gave him some hope though and succeeded the cards (again). Sylvia took the hope AND the direction, drinking through the night.
No hypothetical question. I was a pretty poor Dust this round, but the direction given to make the Dust about threats and violence just wasn't really working for me.

Last scene of the act was between Lena (Sylvia) and Estelle (Joe), with Pat as the Dust.  Estelle came into Lena's house, past her kids, trying to get her to be a better mother, and then stop drinking. When Lena couldn't, she kept following, and the threats from the Dust made her go get the shotgun. And pump it. But Estelle just kept standing there, and while standing in front of the lady with the shotgun in her arms, Estelle asked for a job. Faced with such nerve, she relented, despite the Dust winning. Lena commanded her as her first job to go buy her another bottle of booze.
Sylvia asked "Why did Lena's husband leave?"

This ended the Act, which brought us to a special Communion Scene, where the four Angels come together, talk, and plan. We all met in the bar, and talked through our plan. We knew we could save some, and decided we'd target Lawrence and Andrew and Earl.
We also answered the other Chapter Question for the Pillars.
Questions, Round Three:
Andrew: If the Angels left town now... I'd slip further into drug trafficking and abandon medicine altogether.
Martha: Unanswered - the Angels aren't a part of her life yet.
Earl: If the Angels left town now... the lynch mob shows up.
Lawrence: If the Angels left town now... It'd be up to me to kill as many badits as I could before they gunned me down.
Lena: If the Angels left town now... I would drink myself to death, unless my husband finds me first.

Act 3 began. Because it's a con game, we skip Act 2. In Act 3, the Dust has arrived, a swirling storm overhead, causing all sorts of supernatural activity to start happening. Pretty much anything goes now on that front.
I was the first Pillar this time. Lawrence was standing out at the front of the town, with his revolver in his holster and his shotgun on his back, standing next to his horse and staring out at the storm and the bandits. Julius showed up behind him. Lawrence was talking about going in there and killing them all in a last stand. Julius tried to talk him out of it, with the Dust whispering in Lawrence's ear "...one by one, lure them out, kill them, one at a time, maybe you'll live, one by one...". Finally Julius won the conflict and Lawrence decided not to charge in there. He stepped back, and began his action: one by one he would kill them, starting with Julius. He shot him in the back, and Julius fell to the ground, dropping his own gun, exclaiming with his last breath "7 shots. It's got a bit of a kick...".
Pat and Julius both got their point of Hope. Lawrence finished with 2 Hope, 1 Dust.

Next it was Pat's turn as a Pillar. He played Andrew. Andrew was in the packed clinic, working as hard as he can, running high on amphetimines. Henry was in there, giving out liberal doses of morphine. Andrew told him to stop, and Henry thought he was helping. Andrew thought that Henry was trying to take over for his role, trying to obsolete him, and reacted with anger. Dust won the cards, so I took direction. I didn't have high card though, so Julius took Hope. Every person who Henry had given morphine to started screaming, and started to bleed from the pores. The walls were bleeding, and every space of the room that wasn't the aisles for Andrew was suddenly filled with corpses, piling up, more than the were ever in the clinic, more than could have been in the town, just there, rotting. Henry ran. Andrew went up to 1 Hope, 2 Dust.

Now Sylvia was a Pillar, and she was Earl. Estelle came into the bar with intent to teach Earl a lesson. Earl tried to take advantage of her, but it didn't work, and so Earl switched to violence. He came at her with the bat, but when it struck it was blocked by glowing white light and shattered the bat. They fought, and in the end, Dust won the cards. The Dust overcame, and a dervish of wind roared in from the storm. It picked up glass shards from all over the ground and started swirling them through the air, circling around and around and around Estelle, giving her thousands and thousands of small cuts, white light around her until the Dust in Earl's mind whispered "...it's what she deserved...", shattering her idealism and hope and her Angelic light vanished away as she was consumed and killed by the swirling glass.
Estelle got the point of Hope,  but Earl descended to 1 Hope, 2 Dust.

The final played scene was Joe as the Pillar. And he picked Martha, who had thus far not been seen in this game. Beryl knocked on her door, and it swung open a bit. She came in to find little Johnny sitting over in a near room, with water cascading down the stairs from above. Lilting piano music could be heard from the end of the hall, where Martha was entranced on the keys. Beryl talked to Johnny and explained that she was a mind doctor, and Martha stopped suddenly. Martha came over and tried to get Beryl to leave, with the Dust guiding her thoughts in her still entranced state. The water started coming down the stairs even harder and faster, filling the floor.  The Dust won the cards as Martha took it as a sign from God and told Johnny to close the door. The house flooded and filled, and Beryl was shielded by her shining white light, but upon the realization that she'd failed a second patient, that she wasn't infallible, her pride broke and the water rushed in on her, destroying her. Johnny drowned, but the house collapsed and Martha poured out into the sidewalk before dying.
I got no Hope, and Martha went to 0 Hope, 2 Dust.
The hypothetical question was asked: Will she see her children in heaven?

The final scene was over, so we moved on to Judgment. We traded around our Hope, and had some clear choices. Lawrence was definitely saved. We could distribute up to 4 points of Hope. We could save Andrew and Earl and reach 3 Pillars, thus saving the town, but then Earl would live and he's a demon in human skin. Alternatively, we could spend three points to save Lena but let the town die. We had some suggestion that Henry and Lena should totally get together, and that's what we did: we shipped Lena and Henry without regard for the town. As Joe put it, we had a tumblr moment. Estelle managed to preserve her Angelic nature in the afterlife as well, with swirling shards of glass for a halo. Henry maintained his nature and helped Lena with her kids to the end of their days. Earl was killed by a girl who resisted his charms once he'd gotten her to his place. Andrew was killed. Martha drowned herself in the river after surviving the flood. Lawrence took out the bandits, one by one, with seven shots and a bit of kick.

The last human being dies on April 30, 1955.

All in all, a really fun game! The setup stuff was really really good, and the modified Tarot deck, even in an incomplete form, was very impressive. I would definitely play this game again, and all the characters were really memorable, which is pretty impressive. If you get a chance to play this, whether Jeremy is running it or otherwise, you should jump at the chance.

Later folks.
End Recording,

No comments :

Post a Comment