[Dust Devils] Forced Abortion Plot Ends in Bloodbath

edited August 2018 in Actual Play
I ran Dust Devil for the first time yesterday as a one-shot. We had a total blast but I'd like to get advice on some minor snags.

I thought I'd have two players but my friends' 18-year old teenage son and his girlfriend, a total newbie, both spontaneously joined in (and utterly rocked the game!).

PCs:
Capt'n K, an ex-soldier turned Pinkerton thug, bent on punishing criminals
Little Thunder, an Indian hunter turned vagabond, filled with hatred of the railway (teen 1)
Bella Jordie, a battered housewife transformed into a sadistic gunslinger (teen 2)
Pink Patty, an ex-midwife turned backstreet abortionist, traumatized by mercy killing a dozen women/babies after an Indian raid.

Pink Patty's Devil seemed interesting but murky to me, but despite some discussion we failed to refine it. As a result, it was the only Devil that fell flat and never affected play (despite a story which turned out to have a forced abortion). Any ideas on what we could have done?

I used the Romeo-and-Juliet scenario from the rulebook, but immediately modified it with Juliet's father being a railway mogul, Juliet being pregnant and the saloon owner hiring Pink Patty and Little Thunder to suggest and possibly enforce an abortion (to hide his involvement in hiding the liason). I half-expected the PCs to turn down the job offer and rat out or kill the saloon owner, but I suspect the players were into a D&D-ish "follow the plot" mindset. The other PCs ended up as Juliet's bodyguards so a bloody end became all but inevitable.

When the second recruitment scene dragged on (after Juliet had poured out her heart to Bella Jordie), I had a messenger arrive with news that Romeo was being beaten to a pulp by the cowboys of Juliet's father at the saloon. Quite heavy-handed, but it was a one-shot and I wanted to get things moving.

At the saloon, Capt'n K tried to calm everyone but Bella Jordie's sadistic gunslinger successfully provoked the cowboys to "get a pretext to open fire and kill people". She used her Full House (Ouch!) to do just that, with her fellow bodyguard Capt'n K caught in the crossfire. Good times!

Lots of bloodshed followed. Juliet was poisoned (to lose the baby), Romeo died of his injuries, Juliet killed herself by throwing herself into the line of fire, the dying Indian confessed the nefarious plot (Redemption!) and the abortionist and the saloon owner were to be lynched. The abortionist escaped and provoked a battle between the feuding families (aided by Bella Jordie). Pure blood opera!

*-*-*

I had intended to follow the rules, but in practice a lot of details fell by the wayside. In particular, we never got a healthy chips economy going. Only the Indian played against his trait "taciturn" and earned chips.

"Highest hand wins, highest card narrates" worked absolutely fabulously, especially in conjunction with the brutal harm rules and the flexibility concerning parties not directly in opposition to the winning hand. Very, very cool!

One snag was narrating harm spread across several attributes. We had no problems envisioning what various Flush hands caused, but how to narrate "he loses one heart, one diamond, one spade"?

The other snag was that a lot of characters initially survived being gunned down, owing to the rule that you die in a scene after being reduced to zero in one attribute in the current scene. It's a very useful rule, ensuring a dramatic and player-authored ending, and fortunately its improbable results did not seem comical to us. Still, we discussed it afterwards and one player expressed his desire to see "ultimate showdowns" (last man standing, essentially, and not with everyone else crawling around).

We're definitely planning on playing more Dust Devils, so ... any advice?

Comments

  • Addendum: Ancient advice on this forum proved invaluable in understanding the game, as my first instinct was to defuse the harm rules for ostensibly "harmless" conflicts with non-lethal intent (I try to convince them, I drag her away, I try to charm him etc.).

    As it was, the session's conflicts contained lethal intent most of the time, but knowing that the game is to be played in such a way that even non-lethal intent may lead to brutal consequences (grave injury, psychological trauma, life-changing humiliation, death, scarring, whatever) was important to "get" Dust Devils, I think.
  • Johann said:

    Pink Patty's Devil seemed interesting but murky to me, but despite some discussion we failed to refine it. As a result, it was the only Devil that fell flat and never affected play (despite a story which turned out to have a forced abortion). Any ideas on what we could have done?

    "Afraid of the consequences of failure": Devil encourages passing off responsibility and discourages stepping up. GM punishes this moral paralysis with brutal pressure. Pink Patty becomes either a wretch who shirks responsibility or a tragic figure who freezes when trying to do the right thing. Or, they miraculously succeed despite having a rather horrible Devil.
    Johann said:

    One snag was narrating harm spread across several attributes. We had no problems envisioning what various Flush hands caused, but how to narrate "he loses one heart, one diamond, one spade"?

    "He's shaken by the whole ordeal. Nothing will ever be the same now that he has killed a man. He hardly sleeps, and not a day goes by without a drink."
    Johann said:

    The other snag was that a lot of characters initially survived being gunned down, owing to the rule that you die in a scene after being reduced to zero in one attribute in the current scene. It's a very useful rule, ensuring a dramatic and player-authored ending, and fortunately its improbable results did not seem comical to us. Still, we discussed it afterwards and one player expressed his desire to see "ultimate showdowns" (last man standing, essentially, and not with everyone else crawling around).

    That should be an optional rule (he says, firmly grounded in 1st edition DD). Optional as in, you can kill them outright unless the player of the dying character specifically objects. They will only object when necessary, so this ensures that characters only linger on when they still have something to add.

    And yes, good to see that you've got the violence modality down. I think that it's core to Dust Devils that the only control the players have over the degree of violence is in their choice of the hands to play. It is very realistic, going to the point of the game: in real life it is hellishly difficult to use a big gun to make a confrontation safer, while it is rather easy to make sure that somebody goes home with injury. A drama game that empowers the players to win without injuring their foe takes this moral conundrum away from you.
  • Good advice, thank you!

    That should be an optional rule (he says, firmly grounded in 1st edition DD). Optional as in, you can kill them outright unless the player of the dying character specifically objects.

    I like that. If it's a satisfyingly climatic scene, I think the players won't object (unless they do indeed have unfinished business with their portrayal) -- they seem to be taking to Dust Devils like ducks to water.

    I'm sure we'll get to the game's finer points (e.g. folding) or advanced tactics (e.g. gentlemen's agreements to not play overly damaging hands) when we continue play (which may take awhile as the summer vacation is over and it's back to DCC in the Wilderlands).
  • This is a good reminder that I need to play this game sometime.

    Eero, when and why would you choose Tales of Entropy over Dust Devils, and vice-versa?

    My sense is that they share a basic style of play/scenario, but implement the details very differently.
  • Yes, you need to play Dust Devils. It is obscene to not do that, same as with The Mountain Witch. Next you'll tell us that you haven't played My Life with Master or Primetime Adventures either...
    Paul_T said:

    Eero, when and why would you choose Tales of Entropy over Dust Devils, and vice-versa?

    My sense is that they share a basic style of play/scenario, but implement the details very differently.

    I agree. They're compatible enough that I would plain use the Entropy scenario database and scenario prep rules with Dust Devils. Any scenario that works for one will work for the other, more or less. DD by itself has a rather minimal scenario gear-up, while Entropy has an elaborate one, so DD can actually gain in a major way by cross-pollination there; traditionally it's not exactly hard to get DD going, but it's not systematized the way Entropy is.

    The games fill a very similar niche, but I suppose I would go for Dust Devils with players who dislike nitpicky details and keeping track of stuff; it has less of that stuff compared to Entropy. Similarly I'd say that simpler scenarios in simpler and more sharply defined genres would be more appropriate for Dust Devils. Entropy, on the other hand, has the advantage for slightly more elaborate stuff, such as a scenario that involves light setting development alongside play. For DD you need to press on constantly, while for Entropy you need to be able to take joy in a well-crafted Grain or other similar record-keeping.

    A more experienced group might enjoy Entropy more due to it having more for non-GM players (everybody, as there's no GM) to do. On the other hand, even an experienced group can't run Entropy quite as fast as Dust Devils can go - it can be lightning-fast, truly, when everybody knows what they're doing, and this can be a great joy and a show of group competence.

    This is an excellent example of how little the presence of a GM matters, by the way; having played both games extensively, this technical issue is barely an afterthought as far as I'm concerned. You could swap the way those games deal with the scene framing between the two, and I wouldn't really care in my heart of hearts.

    I personally have a lot of forbearance for surprising combinations of dramatic themes and mechanical themes, which means that I'm happy to play something like say Pride and Prejudice with Dust Devils - the assumptions about violence make for an interesting challenge. For those players really concerned about matching the rules and the setting I'd recommend using Dust Devils for the more violent and grim scenarios in realistic genres, while Entropy is more even-keeled in that regard, and best suited for scenarios with a bit of a moralistic or philosophical slant, perhaps in a genre with strong thematic preconceptions (to refute or support as one would). A high fantasy court intrigue, for example, would fit Entropy better than DD - or at least more naturally. You basically need to play both to make any sort of judgement on a per-scenario basis, and even then it's rather subjective as to what might seem appropriate.

    Playing the same scenario with both back-to-back is something that'd be nice to try some time. A bit self-indulgent, perhaps.
  • edited August 2018
    Ha, Eero! Your guesses are weighty drops, falling out of the mouth of a prophet of doom.

    I appreciate (and agree with) your notes on game structures and the purpose of a GM; I think this kind of comparison is a really interesting and fruitful one, and shows that elements of a design don't ever operate in a vacuum.

    Fooling around with mismatched genres/situations and resolution systems is one of my interests, and something I'd like to mess around with more someday - Pride & Prejudice & Devils sounds like a great mashup.
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