Beginning the playtest
As it turns out Roll20 is pretty flaky, so I didn’t get to record the world creation setting. Ah well.
The group was me plus five others: Ed, Ellie, Laurence, Stephen and Angel.
Step 1: Broad Strokes
We discussed what sort of world the game was set in – near future earth, far future earth, space station, etc. Stephen suggested something like Numenera – endless civilisations have risen and fallen into ruin, and we’d start the game after the most recent collapse.
Next up is the kind of technology that defined the World Before. We tossed some ideas around and essentially ended up with the Matrix – the people of the world were wired up into life-sustaining pods while their minds experienced a digital paradise. Meanwhile caretaker robots tended the life-support systems and kept the environment in order as the abandoned city around the pod towers slowly crumbled to ruin.
The Fall came as a sudden shock. Ed suggested that some strange digital consciousness emerged on the network, laying waste to the human minds within and twisting the caretaker bot’s programming to its own purposes. The survivors fled the network and were forced to re-adapt to physical existence; meanwhile, the surviving minds in the network seemed to fall under the sway of the digital consciousness, becoming its mouthpieces.
Step 2: Family
With the basic details of the world sketched out, it was time to pick Family playbooks.
- Ed picked the Lawgivers of the Wasteland.
- Ellie picked the Enclave of Forgotten Lore.
- Laurence picked the Gilded Company of Merchants.
- Stephen picked the Cultivators of New Flesh.
- Angel picked the Servants of the One True Faith.
The first part of Family creation is picking stats. Depending on the stat array you choose, you’ll make certain statements about the world.
- Angel decided his Servant’s religion was built around the forces of the Fall, meaning they have poor reach, adequate sleight and strong grasp. They seek truths in the strange ramblings of those plugged into the network.
- Laurence decided that the Fall was a protracted struggle against extinction.
- Ed decided that law and order saved mankind from extinction.
- Ellie decided that the wonders of the Before were widely distributed, and everyone can benefit from the Enclave’s advice.
- Stephen decided that the fall completely replaced the old ecosystem with something new, as the caretaker robots started working to a new and alien design.
Next, each Family has options for Traditions – who’s in your family, how they relate to each other and what their style is.
The Merchants are something like a noble court made of high-flying and cut-throat businesspeople, wearing high-class but utilitarian trail clothes.
The Lawgivers are somewhere between Paladins and Texas Rangers – cowboys carrying around big books of law. They’re distantly descended from the old forces of law enforcement, but as they’ve dedicated themselves to interpreting the corrupted text files of old legal records they’ve become something of a monastic tradition.
The Enclave are lead by reason, with the main social unit being a master/apprentice tutoring relationship as the master inducts the apprentice in the mysteries of the network and implants the needed technology into them. It’s governed by an elected council, lead by discussion and debate.
The Cultivators have a feudal system; each nutrient vat they control is ruled by its own Baron, who has absolute control over the vat and its workers.
The Servants are structured like the early Christians – scattered congregations in plain clothing with very diverse theology, all working to interpret the utterances of an oracle jacked into the network.
Drawing the map
Next comes Landmarks. Each playbook has options to add to the homeland map so that you build the initial setting together. Here’s the map we made.
Lawrence with the Merchants added:
- Dorcia: a haven for the rich and powerful that lasted longer than most, and is the Merchant’s new home.
- The Nux: cannibalistic raiders to the north, that have resisted all attempts at diplomacy.
- Camp Turgidson, to the south-west: a military complex with a cache of doomsday weapons, built by the Merchant’s ancestors.
Ed with the Lawgivers added:
- The Basilica: an old courthouse, actually a big server farm where the lawgiver’s ancestors could log onto the network with admin privileges to moderate and dispense justice.
- To the west of the city, the site of a massacre for the Lawgivers, where they severely underestimated a force of mutant raiders.
- To the south-east of the city, a jail that held the network’s worst criminals in a private server shard. Its countermeasures have recently shut down, freeing its occupants.
Ellie with the Enclave added:
- To the far west, a dangerous and unstable power plant.
- Between the city and Camp Turgidson, a field of wireless antennae. Within the field, strange digital ghosts manifest – some human and some decidedly not.
- To the south-east, a radio telescope array that first understood the Fall’s root cause.
Stephen with the Cultivators added:
- Monumental nutrient slurry silos in the city centre, that the cultivators are now rigging to make food for the homeland.
- A pumping station next to the silos that’s the only source of fresh water.
- A salt flat to the south of the city, a sign of the terrible drought that’s soon coming as the machines that manage the water cycle go haywire.
Angel with the Servants added:
- The Anasteseos: A shrine at the entrance to once of the pod towers, where the last preacher of the end times was killed.
- The Evangelica: A temple of those that worshipped the agents of the Fall.
- A point to the north of the salt flats where a prophet of doom first emerged from the wasteland, claiming to be the dead preacher reborn.
The Family History section was next, with everyone working out what obligations each Family owed each other. This produced a lot of interesting connections – here’s a sampling.
- The Cultivators rely on the Enclave to provide knowledge and the Lawgivers to provide protection.
- The Enclave thinks the Merchants have the greatest minds of the homeland.
- The greatest criminal of the Wasteland came from the Enclave, and in their meddling freed the prisoners from the jail to the south-east and stole information from the Merchants.
- The Lawgivers saved the Merchants from extinction at the hands of a band of raiders.
- The Servants view every other Family as Righteous, with the sole exception of the Merchants (who they deem Corrupt).
Doctrine and Lifestyle
Each Family had two choices: one move based on their personal philosophy, and one based on their distribution across the homeland:
- The Enclave give people extra bonuses when they heed their advice on projects and know the cultural significance of any artefact of the Before they encounter.
- The Servant’s representatives can find safety in any settlement so long as they provide others aid, and have churches that provide refuge in each of the Homeland’s settlements.
- The Lawgivers can spread word someone’s Wanted, ensuring no-one shelters them, and can ask the GM questions when they encounter a scene of violence.
- The Cultivators can culture multiple batches of crops at once, and inherit traits from the species they tame.
- The Merchants get the first pick of the goods brought into their settlement and can convince people to perform any favour as payment instead of barter.
For their lifestyle, the Lawgivers and Servants are distributed across the settlements of the Homeland, while the Merchants are settled in Dorcia, the Cultivators are settled in the nutrient silos in the city’s centre, and the Enclave are settled in one of the southernmost pod towers.
Resources and Moves
Finally, we get to the resources each family can bring to bear.
The Enclave, named The Transistors, have a surplus in Defences and Knowledge, but need Recruits, Leadership and Culture. They have deep knowledge of ‘the magic and artifice of the glorious past’, and medical treatments able to heal any artifice (regeneration tanks powered by solar panels).
The Servants, named The Singulars, have a surplus of Culture and Recruits but need Leadership, Land and Safety. They seek bodily ascension into digital paradise and can sacrifice their health and leadership to get mystical power in battle.
The Lawgivers, aka The Justicars of the Word, have a surplus of Weaponry and Transport but need Leadership, Defences and Recruits (following their terrible recent defeat). They’re committed to persecuting those above the law and are fanatically against bending the law to give people lenience and can brandish their authority to recruit a gang of locals to fight at their side.
The Cultivators, aka The Open-Handed Ones, have a surplus of Progress and Land but need Culture, Trade Goods and Medicine. They can sacrifice progress, land or trade to make drugs, crops or livestock, and can genetically engineer themselves over the ages.
The Merchants, aka the Fountainhead Commerce League (FCL), have a surplus of Barter Goods and Contacts but need medicine, recruits and culture. They have a stock in trade of luxury drugs and venoms, books and instruction manuals, and mementoes of the Before and they’re skilled at assessing the worth of things they find.
With that, family creation was over. It was really fun, and I can’t wait to get started playing in the world we built together.
Takeaways from the playtest so far:
- World creation remains fun, and instantly gets players invested. The landmarks and stat declarations have definitely added to this.
- Treaty assignment can get a bit complicated; maybe a relationship map or chart could simplify things?
- I don’t think we need another step to add drama to the starting situation; family creation seems to cover that entirely, though it might be good to set up the process to naturally introduce NPC factions and settlements into the world.