Always/Never/Now - Actual Play [SPOILERS]

edited July 2013 in Story Games

I've run two sessions of A/N/N for my friends now and the game is really starting to rev up. We're playing one big set piece per session, and that pacing is working well for us. After kidnapping the data scientists working with the anarchists in Reykjavik, the group infiltrated Free City Atlantica with a memory they had copied from Utseo's mind as a bartering tool to get them into Edgar's good graces. Given an awful encounter with Armingshire (acting autonomously), I'm surprised that their negotiations went as well as they did. But, since they didn't realize that Edgar was selling them something he'd already sold, and thus was willing to overlook such things for a payout, they did find the server they wanted to access.

Session 1 Crew:
Utseo Tao
Emily Syndrome
Dr. Henri Qasar

Session 2 Crew:
+Tank Nguyen

1. One of the first things that came up was that Emily Syndrome identified with the anarchists and worked towards a peaceful solution. While I let Armingshire strafe them in the helicopter after a while, the part about letting the players know that this was supposed to be solved by violence didn't happen, and I felt would have unnecessarily cut off Emily's player.
2. Actually describing the Hoefler organization, and why they had two basic viable targets, was basically hand waived. I wasn't sure why these two locations were best, so I just described it as their investigation results/intuition.
3. The text, which I read aloud early on, was very explicit about their not being a Matrix or anything like that, and that while there was an internet, remote hacking was just not done. Then, as I'm getting to the part where I'm supposed to reveal that these ultra secure servers on an oil rig in the Caribbean were hacked and Josine was erased just felt like bullshit. I wouldn't mind describing an awesome hack job, but it just didn't fit. As such, I ended last session with the idea that what Josine backed up was not full memories but had encoded a way to contact Vital Beta, or, in this case, have Vital Beta contact the characters. It felt and feels weak, but I'm running with that for now.

More thoughts as they come up!


  • We had another session last Friday. I ended up going with the memories are actually a software program for contacting Vital Beta. We started out in their safehouse in Sydney (which I likened to Flynn's Arcade). They talked about what they wanted to do, and while they did, Edgar called, somewhat frazzled, asking for the earnest money early from Emily. They eventually figured out that he was being put up to calling them and hung up. They exited as quickly as they could, but rigged the place to blow. They went their own ways, intent on meeting up at their loyal fence who was the harbor, the captain of the Galataea. On the way there, Dr. Henri had a great flashback, which ended up revealing who the head Armingshire guy was that kept showing up in helicopters to take them down. In the end, the safehouse blew, and they made their way to the harbor. The captain of the Galataea (whom I had alive and well), welcomed them and repaid an old debt to get them wherever they wanted. He eventually asked them about the weird communication from Josine in Lagos. They chewed on that for a while and made their way to Melbourne U., which was as secure a location as they could get to contact Vital Beta. VB eventually told them what he knew in exchange for dangerously powerful anti-memory-recovery blocks and a promise to help him get a biological android (it wants a mobile host).

    I think it went really well; we had some interesting roleplay and decision making while various options started becoming available (China and Nigeria being the main ones).

    So, here's what's itching me:

    I made a very specific point to read the very specific text about what technology was like in the world. Local hacking, no world-wide network for monitoring criminals and such (local databases, though), no androids, limited AIs, and other things were reviewed.

    Then, when reading the different scenes, I have:
    non-local hacking
    world-wide criminal tracking
    biological androids
    powerful AIs

    I could deal with one or maybe two "rug pulls", wherein I show that previous information was false, or that there is something cutting edge. But the further we get into the game, the harder time I have swallowing these changes.

    I'm chalking it up to my style of GMing and a strict and powerful need for internal consistency and no unreliable narrator. I'm not saying I won't have mysteries, occulted information, or the such. I'm just saying that I won't let myself getting away with "here's something that you had no chance of guessing based on what you knew".

    That said, if I had had some hints or foreshadowing for some of these, I could have swallowed them easier. If someone were to rewrite A/N/N, I'd request a focus on these things and how to ameliorate their impact or further integrate them into previous scenes.

    I guess, in the end, I couldn't digest the entire narrative well enough to realize what I needed. Gamer baggage from other pick up and play games led me to roll too often with the technique of reading just the next scene before starting the game.

    Still, we're enjoying ourselves. I see us wrapping up the campaign in one or two more sessions.
  • edited July 2013
    I'm in this group. I enjoyed the latest reveal, but the need to ad-lib the path to it came with some downsides. Rather than having a simple choice between "go here for mission A, or go there for mission B", which is a large part of the value of A/N/N's scripted structure, the players were left interpreting what might or might not be missions:
    - escape enemy forces in Australia
    - track down Josine-impersonator in Nigeria
    - go to unspecified location and find unspecified way to activate the AI we now possess

    I wanted to jump on the impersonator lead and go to Nigeria, expecting that, like any other mission, it was safe to assume we could get there. Another player interpreted Mark's frequent mentions of the black helicopters as an assertion that we had not yet escaped them and there would be more action in that process, so we had to strategize how we'd move around Australia. A third player was convinced that the game plot demanded we unlock the AI, and wished the path to doing so would be made obvious. So there was a bit of floundering due to us not being on the same page about what our options were. "How can we get to Nigeria?" "Should we hide in New Zealand?" "Can we activate the AI on our own?"

    Once Mark let us know "as long as you don't do anything in Australia to draw the badguys' attention, you can go to a university and use their computers to activate your AI" then we were back on track. "Yes, let's do that." Now we were back playing the "choose from defined options" game, rather than the "invent your own" or "you might be in the middle of one, or not" game.

    In general, I like inventing my own missions, but others in the group like that less, and it wasn't what any of us had been primed for by A/N/N up to that point.

    tl;dr -- deviate from the scripted structure at your peril
  • As for Mark's point about rug-pulls, I completely agree with this:
    if I had had some hints or foreshadowing for some of these, I could have swallowed them easier. If someone were to rewrite A/N/N, I'd request a focus on these things and how to ameliorate their impact or further integrate them into previous scenes.
    If there's an established threat out there that "someone is working on a new way to do non-local hacking, and OMG this could be a game-changer, who is it?" then when the gimmick (non-local hacking) occurs it feels like the adversity just took a logical and dramatic leap forward. Otherwise, it feels contrived, and takes some creativity from the group to rationalize how it doesn't break plausibility.
  • Really interesting points.

    I've only read it, not played, and the "rug pulls" didn't jump out at me as such. But now that you put it like that, it does seem like a lot to swallow in play.
  • I guess that's the thing: Not to "Star Trek Geek"-out the inconsistencies. Almost every good short form SF is:

    "The World Works like This: X. No one can do Y."
    Major Issue: "Someone is Doing Y! OMG! Who is it, how are they doing it, and why?"
    It can be a major interesting cornerstone to a transhumanist SF adventure.

    However, when you do that on Every Single Point (No one can do W, X, Y, Z; But the antagonists are all doing W, X, Y and Z) it becomes harder to stay in the fiction.

    We are a Story Gamers' worst enemy. Me, Dave, Rohit, Joey: We Fucking Capital-I Immerse. No shit! We chew on scenes in character, full dialogue, no "rush to the next scene/action", while we step out of character from time to time into "director stance" ("My character is saying X because she thinks Y, and wants to eventually do Z. Or does that work well with this scenario, GM? It does? Cool." etc), but for the most part stay in character. So it might be our slow, RP pace that is exposing the slight jutting-out nail heads in the otherwise smooth wood.

    Hot damn, though, aside from these inconsistencies, this scenario is how I want every scenario to be written, forever.

  • this scenario is how I want every scenario to be written, forever.
    Yeah, seriously. It's hot tech.
  • I haven't read or played this game.

    Is there a set scenario which you must play (like Lady Blackbird)? If not, what scenario is being discussed here? Or does this game come with some kind of scenario-generator (like Dogs Town Creation)? (Clearly something's afoot, or Mark wouldn't have put a "Spoilers" tag on this thread, but I don't know what it is! To be safe, I didn't read Mark's two original posts, just in case they "spoil" something.)

    Sounds interesting, anyhow.
  • It's a set scenario with pregens (similar to LB, but much more elaborate), with lots of ways to get into the action and cool structures for how to play it out.

    Sadly, yes, there are mystery elements which can be spoiled, which sometimes makes it tricky to discuss online.

    But! You can download the thing and read the player-facing stuff without worrying about spoilers (it's a separate PDF). Grab it here:
  • Ah, thanks! That's very helpful. Cool stuff!
  • edited July 2013
    For others reading, who may want the answers to Paul's questions without having to read a PDF:

    Always/Never/Now provides a bunch of missions (objectives + locations) as well as a schematic for how one leads to others. So by the conclusion of Mission 3, the players will be given leads to Missions 4 and 5. Depending on what the players achieved in # 3, they may be able to approach # 4 or # 5 with more of a clue about what's going on and a better idea about how to proceed (and I think they may also be given a lead to Mission 6).

    If you're successful in your actions, and you ask good questions, and are clever in parsing the answers, you may move through a handful of missions to the Final Mission feeling pretty on top of things.

    If you fail a lot, miss clues, or don't put 2 and 2 together, you may run through a whole lot more missions in a more clueless state before you finally learn what's up and get to the Final Mission.

    I think. Players aren't privy to all the things they could have done and what would have happened, therefore it's hard to be sure.

    In any case, there are linked missions and secrets to discover, which I dig.
  • Very cool! How does A/N/N compare to Delve in this respect? Similar tools, or completely different? (If you have a lot to say, a new thread could be a good idea, of course.)
  • edited July 2013
    When I GM Delve, the mission options I provide begin as rough sketches. I add new ones and flesh out extant ones based on what the players are investing in. Once they've latched onto a series of related adventures pursuing a single thread, I'll build some sort of climactic scenario for that thread. When the campaign's done, if you look back over it, it'll look a lot like A/N/N! The difference is that A/N/N is already written, so the GM doesn't have to do any of that work, and the players can't define "what the game's about" as broadly as in Delve.
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