Time to poll the audience!

Time to poll the audience!

Time to poll the audience! I’m finishing the last few changes to The Planarch Codex and have one major change I want to run by the folks who will actually be playing it…

So, when I run the Planarch Codex, one of the parts I find the most difficult to remember is that the City of Dis is an omnipresent monster that the GM can nearly always choose to make monster moves for when players roll a 6- or when it’s fictionally appropriate. That’s really cool, theoretically, but it requires a lot of mental effort on the part of the GM. If I can’t remember to do it, I probably shouldn’t expect other GMs to do a better job!

Luckily, there are several other possible ways to structure the moves for the City of Dis, so that you trigger them in other ways. Here are some possibilities:

1. Session Move: “At the beginning of a session, roll+X to see what new regions the city has consumed, what planes it has opened gateways to, etc. or how it has rearranged itself.”

2. Fictional Trigger: “When XYZ conditions happen (when you travel to another district or plane, for example), roll+X, etc.”

3. Time-Based Trigger: “After every hour of play or every fictional day/week, roll+X, etc.”

4. Some combination of the above.

Of these, the session move or fictional time passing are probably the easiest to remember to do, but if it’s a session move then it happens more quietly between sessions rather than in the middle of play. Fictional time is interesting, especially if you consider the city to be a living thing with a normal cycle of activity and slumber. Then I just need to decide when the city is most active and code that into the moves.

It might also be cool to include one or more fictional triggers as well, such as “when the stars align,” assuming I have room.

What do you think? What would be the most useful to you in play? What would be the easiest to remember to actually do? What would be the coolest or the most fun?

35 thoughts on “Time to poll the audience!”

  1. I like the combination of Session Move and Fictional Move. Session Moves make the city feel like it has a life “off-camera” – the city has continued to live and breathe and change without direct influence from the PCs. Fictional Moves make it feel alive and reactive to the PCs’ actions – it responds to what they directly do.

  2. I actually like all three of those options, but I think a combination of 1 and 3 would work well to reinforce that Dis is a force that gives no shits about the people it affects.

  3. Sean Dunstan So you don’t think the PCs or other mortal actions should be able to lead to a response from the city? It just continues on its eternal mission of consumption, heedless to lesser concerns?

  4. The sessions move shares some DNA with Stars Without Number’s off screen “The world changes around the players” sandbox rules. Maybe a mix of the two? “When the PC’s act to change Dis, Dis reacts by….” and “Because PC;s are not the center of the universe, Dis….”

  5. Jonathan Walton Of course. It’s been doing for… millennial, right? Nobody’s been able to stop it from devouring cities and realities. You think it cares about five or so adventurers? That’d be like you or I caring about what five cells in your spleen.

    Of course, that’s not to say that five cells can’t become a problem…but until the symptoms get big enough to notice, what can you do?

  6. Kingston Cassidy That sounds a bit like what Chris Whetstone suggested, yeah? The comparison with Stars Without Number is right on. My TOP SECRET plan is for the moves for Dis and the “Is that old job still available?” move to combine to create a dynamic, constantly evolving play environment (city/planes + freebooters and their clients/targets).

    Marshall Miller I’m not sure what you mean. Explain?

    Sean Dunstan Maybe I’m sanguine about Dis noticing the PCs because, during playtesting, PCs destroyed both the moon tower and the Sultana’s palace (in different games).

  7. The back page of the players’ move sheet are all moves that involve the passage of time or significant moments or infrequent actions. You could use the triggering of those moves as a timing mechanism for changes. It varies but how often do you roll those moves, 2-4 times a session?

  8. Jonathan Walton Well, at that point, yes, the PCs have become a threat to Dis. But I don’t think that’s something that should be codified into a mechanic since it’s something that feels very situational. To me, anyway.

  9. Sean Dunstan When I talk about Dis reacting to the adventurers, I think of it more like… a passive reaction, a reflection of how things operate differently in a literally living city and how actions that would be taken for granted in a “normal” space can no longer be taken for granted. For instance: “So you escaped into the sewer without being seen and rolled a 7. You got away fine, but you know that manhole you went through? It’s not there anymore. What do you do?” or something along those lines.

  10. Chris Whetstone I get what you’re saying; I like the idea of the city “fighting back” against the PCs as a type of soft/hard move; the equivalent of the city’s immune system.

    But then, as the PCs become more and more of a problem once the disease PCs start destroying internal organs parts of the city itself. Then it starts making actual moves to fight back.

  11. Chris Whetstone That’s not even a Dis-specific move, yeah? That’s just making it part of a mixed result on Defy Danger? That’s really sweet but I wonder how to encourage GMs to internalize stuff like that.

  12. John Harper I think my only concern about “XP = Dis move” is that players may rightly or wrongly read that as a disincentive that is a counterweight to moves where you mark XP. Like, in the love letter where “If you sacrifice to Lamashtu, mark XP” players may be like: “But then Dis gets a move, so maybe we shouldn’t do that.”

  13. I’d tie the city’s move to the players traveling, or a “scene change”, any time the heroes woul notice the change. While the city is constantly changing and devouring, the players would not be aware until it affects their actions.

    Your triggers for the city moves would be things like:

    When the player move through the City of Dis,

    When the players try to find a place or person in the city of Dis,

    When the players miss a defy danger in the City of Dis, instead of another move, use a Dis move

    Things like that. You could also just directly tie Dis moves to 7-9 and miss results in Perilous Journey,

  14. Mad Adric Yeah, I was thinking about travel moves for the same reason. Like, “When you go to a place you’ve been before, roll to see how it’s changed,” which is how the dungeoneering moves already work (in the Parishes section). But like, I think sometimes the PCs are standing in a tower having a chat with some two-headed gorilla-snake about cross-parish trafficking in demon organs and the tower shudders and shifts into a different configuration. Then again, maybe it’s only important to note that (rather than it being background noise) if it’s fictionally significant.

  15. When you defy danger, on a 10+, describe how part of the city changes. On a 6-, the GM will say how the city changes. Now both players and the GM can play with the setting and it changes when things are most chaotic.

  16. Marshall Miller Hmm, I’m not sure about that exact move, but I like the idea of just changing certain results for basic moves. Like, “When you defy danger within the city limits, then XYZ.”

  17. Dis is moving on. In the first session, the GM starts with 1 chip per player. He can use those chips to make changes to the City of Dis. Each session thereafter, he begins play with one more chip than the session before. The GM immediately takes 2 chips whenever players enter Dis and discards any chips when they leave. If the GM has chips remaining at the end of a session, players mark XP for each chip unspent. The scope of the change is up to the GM.

  18. Marshall Miller If the changes are liekely to be unpleasant for players, I’d suggest the players get XP equivalent to the number of Chips spent. that way it’s not a tradeoff between the city being more active, exciting and dangerous and the players getting more XP.

  19. there’s an impulse to organize Dis as a front, but although it has impulses, “grim portents” and “impending doom” don’t seem to fit with something so morally ambiguous and disorganized. 

    How about this…

    “Dis has the impulses to grow, to consume, and to change. Before each session, create five ways the city expresses it’s impulses by rolling five times on this chart (1-2 grow, 3-4 consume 5-6 change) then for each impulse, roll on this chart of adjectives to describe how it acts (cruelly, beautifully, with subtlety, joyfully, ect.) each session, try to use at least three impulse/adjective combos to describe a way in which Dis has acted. unused impulse adjective combos are used in future sessions” 

  20. I’m 100% with John on this. I really like that stage of the game where you’re wrapping up and talking about the adventure, figuring out experience and positioning for the next session. That’s the perfect time for Dis to make a move. It doesn’t have to be a hard move. Could even be something good for the players. In any case, it gives me, the GM, something to daydream about for next session.

    As for Dis fighting back, or not being aware of the characters, or anything in between, my preference would be to drop hints and then leave it up to the fictional positioning. I suspect that my players are going to evolve a highly personal relationship with Dis that will emerge through play.

    Can’t wait to see the final!

  21. Marshall Miller: “If the GM has chips remaining at the end of a session, players mark XP for each chip unspent.”

    Argh, no, don’t do that. Player advancement should never be tied to unspent resources because that is a way to encourage people to make things boring – look to 7th Sea for why this is a bad idea. IMO, Mad Adric’s way is much better.

    e; also, voicing my support for Dis reacting the PCs like an immune system does to a few cells – it’s huge, the PCs should be below its notice for the most part.

  22. I’m definitely going to read the rest of the comments in this thread, but not right now because it’s late and I need sleep… right now I just want to “vote” and I vote:

    Session Move and also Fictional Trigger.

    I’ll definitely forget to do it “whenever” but session moves sound good for a somewhat slower paced, but still inevitable change.  However, I like the idea of the city responding to certain things (it’s kind of based on Planescape right?  I seem to recall in the Torment video game the city sometimes reacting to people trying to mess with its architecture), plus it would be easy for me, as the MC, to add or change the fictional triggers if I want the city to respond to the different things, but a session move would ensure that it never becomes stagnant.

  23. Alex Norris I’ve never played 7th Sea but I’d like to understand your reasoning, could you explain more?  My idea was that the GM wouldn’t want to just give the PCs xp, so they would, instead, look for opportunities to spend all their chips.  The XP aren’t about rewarding the players, it’s about making sure the GM doesn’t forget to use all their chips rather than horde, squander, or forget to use them.  The players may get the occasional small payout but it’s not really about them. (Also, I’m not strongly advocating this approach as the right one, only a feasible one.)

  24. Marshall Miller: so in 7th Sea, players get Drama Dice which they can use to power up their rolls. Unfortunately, they get bonus XP at the end of the session based on how many unspent Drama Dice they have… which encourages players to never attempt anything cool (which would use those DD), because they need them to buy new abilities.

    So obviously, it’s a slightly different case here, but it boils down to the same: if the GM has chits that he spends to make cool things happen (Dis moves) and the players get XP based on how few chits the GM spends, you are encouraging players to try to engineer a situation where the GM does not spend his chits, i.e. you’re encouraging players to make the game boring.

    By contrast, if you base extra XP on how many chits the GM does spend, that makes the players want the GM to make Dis moves, which benefits everyone (because cool/interesting things are more likely to happen).

  25. Thanks everyone for you help! You’re welcome to keep talking and making your own custom moves of course, but I think I have enough grist for the ol’ brain mill. Since it’s not likely I’ll be able to thoroughly playtest something brand new by the time Planarch goes to print, my impulse is to plug strongly into existing mechanics that I know work. Better than discovering problems later on! I’ll keep you posted on further developments and will make sure Sage sends out the final PDF as it goes to print.

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