Troublemakers: Satan's Sleepover

edited September 2015 in Actual Play
This was the first playtest of Troublemakers, which took place at Concrete Cow 15.5 on September 12th: the following AP report contains both details of the story and reflection on the mechanics.

There were 4 players, 2 male and 2 female, and we began by going through the playsheets to select characters, settling on a Brat, Kook, Shrimp and Mouth: rather than discuss the setting, we dived straight into character creation, with players wrting down their stats and choosing a toy each before we go to theFamily & Friends choices. We did this by getting each player in turn to describe their character and then discussing their relationship with the other PCs, so at the end of this process, the Brat and Shrimp were sisters and all the other relationships were friendships.

I used a system for badges which I will soon add to the rules: each player had 3 pieces of card, writing their character's name on one side and the names of the other characters on the other side. In this, when the instruction is to 'give a badge to each other player', you give them your badges and they place it with your character's name face up; when the instruction is to 'take a badge with each other player', then you just turn the badges you have with them so that their name is face-up. This lead to an interesting situation where the Shrimp had no badges with the other PCs and they each had two badges with the Shrimp, but that seemed to be in-keeping with the characters of the Shrimp.

As part of this process, we also established that the Brat and the Shrimp moved around a lot, as their parents made their money by buying, renovating and selling old houses, so they had just moved into a coastal Californian town and only expected to be there for a few months: they were living in a large mansion which the local kids (the Kook and Mouth) knew to be haunted, according to local legend. I pushed for this a little, partly because I thought it might make things more interesting if the two pairings of characters were relatively new friends and were still establishing the ground rules for their relationships.

After some short introductory scenes, we moved towards a plot where the Brat invited the Kook and Mouth to a sleepover: the Brat was impressed by the Kook's claim of being a witch and wanted to hold a seance. The Mouth was too cool to be left out of things and of course the Brat's mother expected her to involve her little sister, the Shrimp, in order to keep the small and annoying child out of her hair while she dealt with the builders and decorators who were shaping the mansion to suit her vision of it.

Some moves got hit a lot: the Shrimp especially delighted in giving a hug but the Brat and Kook also had some success with this move when using it on their parents to get their way. In fact, three of the four characters had Feels+2, with only the Kook breaking ranks to have Dreams+2; they also almost all had Guts and [b]Brains[/b] at 0 or -1, so I looked towards shaping the adventure to something touchy feely, with plenty of opportunity for wild stories but less action-adventure.

All the players used the sleepover situation to really get into character, with problems revolving around having a boy (the Mouth) at an otherwise all female event, ordering pizza and the Kook wanting to bless the house against 'dark forces.' The Shrimp's player was particularly good at playing their role and hitting their moves hard & often, trying to milk maximum advantage from them: the only thing holding them back was their lack of badges, which restricted their ability to manipulate the other PCs, who weren't daring the Shrimp to do anything. I reminded everyone, especially the Brat, that they could scold another PC as well as dare them, from which point on the Shrimp started acting up even more and the Brat responded by scolding her little sister, such as by telling he she was too young to take part in the witchcraft initiation ritual that the Kook was going to take them through.

There were a few attempts to abuse the make a wish move: I see it as being a move that reflects the kids' strongest beliefs, which comes through for them when they really need it, but the players sometimes tried to make a wish for relatively trivial things they wanted, e.g. anchovies on the pizza despite not ordering any. This is probably down to a mismatch of expectations, so I'll make the description of the move more explicit in the next draft.

The story came to a head when the Brat was left alone in the attic after her friends decided to run away when a dark shadow appeared up there: the whole run away/stay put system worked just the way I wanted, it lead to the crux of the plot when the shadow started whispering to the Brat, 'helping her out' with special powers and 'good advice.' After a dare gone badly wrong in the utility room resulted in injuries all around, the Kook got a clue to realise that the Brat was possessed and needed a crucifix to drive the evil force out of her friend. Some more misadventures resulted in the Brat being lured to a spot where her little sister was hiding in the rafters and spat holy water on her to drive the evil out; this worked, but the Brat decided she liked having the shadow as her friend and invited it back in, telling her friends that the evil was gone and everything was fine now... we left it there, as it felt like we had reached the end of the first episode in a story that would lead to further misadventures and revelations.

We had a 15-minute post-game chat about the mechanics, from which I got a lot of positive feedback about the moves and the badge system: I got some suggestions for advances besides take +1 in a stat and take a move, such as doubling the effectiveness of badges with one other PC. Besides that addition, I'm also planning to change the tell a lie move, so that it has a more positive effect on gameplay, as the '+1 ongoing if they don't believe you' seemed a little too vague. I also realised I needed some moves for adults to use upon the PCs, most importantly do as you're told, which gives the kids the option to take or lose trouble when an adult tells them to stop or go away.

Comments

  • edited September 2015
    I've had the morning and afternoon to make some changes to Troublemakers in the wake of yesterday's playtest:

    - Fixed missing circles in some of the Kid's Playbooks.
    - Uploaded a booklet version of the rules, which will be the main focus for all future updates.
    - Changed the tell a lie move and adjusted moves in some Kid's Playbooks accordingly.
    - Added the do as you're told move.
    - Added a new playbook, The Devil.
  • This is very cool, James. I've not heard of this before!

    Two thoughts:

    * Yes, you should probably fool around with the "make a wish" move. It should be hard to trigger, or have more frightening consequences (like opening your brain in AW - you wouldn't do it lightly).

    I could see changing the trigger to something like "When you're afraid for your own life, or someone else will be in huge trouble" (not quite right, but you get the idea) so that it doesn't get triggered anytime someone feels like they want something.

    Another option is to say that, on a miss, the thing you wanted will become out of reach for you forever. (Now you won't want to try this move any old time!)

    * I have no idea what happens if you pick on smallfry and the smallfry choose to pick a fight with you.
  • Ooh, I kind of like the harsher consequences for a miss when you make a wish: i shall have to cogitate on that.

    I see your point with the smallfry thing: the third option, to pick a fight, really only makes sense for PCs, which effectively limits it to the Shrimp. I'll either have to change or redefine that third option, since picking on smallfry needs to stay there for when the kids pick on smaller NPC siblings, tiny monsters, family pets and so on.
  • I suppose "They fight back: gain Trouble" would be an obvious option...

    As for making a wish, give some thought to when you want players using that movie in the fiction.

    One way would be "only when they are desperate". Another way to look at it might be "when they have true conviction that they are right in what they do". Another might be "when they believe they are helpless". (That kind of thing can be reinforced with a proper trigger: when you have lost all hope, say why you think you could never achieve your aim, and make a wish. Make sure the player understands their character can't pursue that thing anymore - they've agreed that it's their last attempt.)

    If it's desperation... how can you get that to happen?

    * Make it costly to use the move. (You have to sacrifice something to use it at all.)
    * Make the consequences dire.
    etc.

    I'll think on this and see if I can come up with something better.

    I think this move is the equivalent of "open your brain" from AW. What makes opening your brain work is that's it *scary*. It's your brain... and you have no idea what could happen to it! It's the metaphysical equivalent of walking into open gunfire.
  • Funnily enough, I've already rewritten the first sentence of that move to include the word "desperate" and making it a last chance deal is very appealing... it would be interesting to enforce that in the fiction, maybe some kind of particular consequence for a miss, like a hard move that only applies to making a wish.

    I'm reminded of the 'innocence' rules from Little Fears, 1st Ed., where your belief in the supernatural faded as you grew up and realised that miracles didn't really happen. I don't really want to chart the kids growing-up in that way, but some consequence of that type (can't make a wish again until x occurs, take -1 ongoing until someone successfully makes a wish, etc) might do the job.

    As I type this, I'm leaning towards a 'three wishes' rule, where making a wish is a limited resource and you have to spend that resource just to make the roll: you then always have to choose options from the list, but on a 10+, you can get your resource back. Since Dreams is a dump stat for most characters (much like Weird in AW) and making a wish should always be a big deal, like opening your brain, I think an economy that limits when and how often you can make the move would be appropriate.
  • Here's the new pick on smallfry move:

    You can’t pick a fight with anyone or anything smaller than you, but you can still pick on them: when you pick on smallfry, you first veto one option from this list, then they choose one of the two remaining:
    • They’re chased off, for now.
    • They give you what they want.
    • They take +1 trouble.

  • Another change log for Troublemakers

    - Expanded introduction into a basic rules & character creation chapter, choosing a name for your PC and their favourite food.
    - Added Will to the rules, a resource that can be spent for bonuses or to make a wish.
    - Re-edited the text of some basic moves.
    - Re-wrote the make a wish move, to include a redefined trigger, spending will on it, new outcomes on 10+ and 7-9, and extending the list of consequences from 3 to 5, with some re-editing of the existing consequences.
    - Added three new peripheral moves: chore, chow down and go to your room.
    - Added 'badge-making' guidelines to the Friends & Family chapter.
    - Edited Allowance and the Toy Catalogue into one chapter.
    - Added more analysis of the new version of making a wish to the Dreaming & Wishing chapter and edited charms to incorporate the changes.

    These changes mean that some playsheets are currently broken, most notably The Newcomer, so they are next on the schedule to be re-written.
  • I'm not a huge fan of a purely mechanical resource-spending for something as dramatic as making a wish, but I like the idea of making it more rare. (It is a pretty powerful move, after all.)

    However, make sure it doesn't become too rare! Dreams should still be important and powerful stuff, not a dump stat, in my opinion. That's part of what makes your particular game special, like the maelstrom does for AW.
  • I've plumped for the will economy to regulate making a wish, because it's the best way I can think of to encourage the players to consider carefully before making the move without making it seem too scary or counter-productive to even be worth the effort. Will can also be used on other moves, so it won't be wasted if you never make a wish, but it's harder to recover than trouble or allowance for most characters. I'll have to give it a second playtest with the new rules to see whether players sit on their hands rather than actually spend will and whether spending it produces a worthwhile reward.

    I've also suddenly remembered the reasoning behind the pick on smallfry move, which I must have written back in February or March and then hardly thought about since: the point is that it's the general move for when any character gets aggressive with any smaller character, so it can be used by any adult or large monster who wants to attack a kid. I think I'll keep the new version of it however, since the kids always have the option to pick a fight anyway, it doesn't need to be triggered by this move.
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