Bill White's roleplaying game design blog, with emphasis on narrativist or story-heavy games.

Monday, June 01, 2009

The Great City

This is my design from last year's Game Chef. At Dave Berg's prompting, we tried it out at Dreamation last year; it broke, but could be fixed:

The Great City Walks

The Great City walks above the world, rising from the back of a mountain-sized spider-creature, epitome of the art of the entomosynitheist.1 Its aristocratic youth revel in stately pavanes and sprightly galliards while around them proceeds the work of the city. Wealthy families sponsor the experimental endeavors of learned scholar-breeders in return for cadres of newer and better servile insects: hardier servants, fiercer warriors, more beautiful and elaborate ornamentals. Diligent and perspicacious merchants rent or buy the servile insects for their labor, or use them to produce raw materials: exotic silks, medicinal venoms of great potency, carapace-carvings both light and strong.

The city is borne on spider-back above a strange and fecund landscape of almost grotesque fertility, a jungle of incomprehensible vastness in which isolated communities of human beings live in uneasy tension with the untamed land around them. To these provincial colonies, the Great City is a beacon of civilization and grace, the chief destination for their balloon-ships and the cargoes they carry.

But the Great City walks in a world of peril, and one misstep may mean its fall.

The city is rife with simmering class tensions, held in check by the elaborate codes of politesse that govern social relations. The power of the nobility rests upon its control of the breeding stocks of servile insects as well as the battalions of myrmidons maintained by each family. But an increasingly wealthy mercantile class grows in influence, and may soon challenge the foundations of the Great City's political order. And the innovations of the entomosynitheists may lead to unanticipated consequences.

Meanwhile, to alien eyes, watching from the depths of the jungle, the Great City represents an implacable threat, suborning the very substance of their species to create its soldiers, its domestics and its pets. 

The peril mounts, and the city walks on, oblivious. Will she stumble, or will she be saved?

 What You Will Need To Play

This is a roleplaying game for two to five players plus a Game Master (GM). Each player will need three chips or other tokens, one each of three colors or types (these rules assume you pick the colors blue, white, and green), marked heads and tails or otherwise having two distinct sides (use + and –, 1 and 0, H and T, or whatever other scheme suits you). These tokens are known as "triad stones." His or her three stones are the player’s "triad." The GM will need on the order of a half-dozen triads for the Great City and for other characters.

Additionally, you will need a fourth kind of token (e.g., red chips, pennies), but these do not have to be marked; they are merely counters, called "scarabs."

We can imagine the scarab as the currency of the Great City, coins minted in the form of ornate beetles. In the game, scarabs also serve as a kind of currency, albeit an abstract one. During play, one or more scarabs are sometimes placed under a triad-stone; such scarabs are called "vested" scarabs, and are distinct from the "free" scarabs held in the player's "purse."

Each player should have an opaque container such as a box or bag to serve as this purse; the brown paper bags in which lunches are carried will do. Two additional purses, one marked "Yea" and the other marked "Nay," are also needed.

You will need a handful of eight-sided dice (d8), as many as three per player but fewer will do if you're prepared to share. The GM will also need a six-sided die (d6). Finally, pencils and paper are needed upon which to record character information, a "character network" of relations among characters, and the Great City's situation.

THE GREAT CITY ORACLE

The Symbolism of the Stones

There are three types of stones, each representing a dimension of the ordering of the world in the oracular cosmology of the Great City. They are always arranged in order: blue, white, green, and have two sides, a face (marked +, heads, or 1) and an obverse (marked -, tails, or 0). In the world of the Great City, we can imagine these stones as smooth circular carapace-carvings with a lordly profile on one side and a fierce myrmidon2 on the other.

 Table 1. Symbolism of the Stones

Color

Class

Mode

Function

Face of Peril

Blue

Aristocratic

Deeds

Myrmidon

Political

White

Learned

Thoughts

Drone

Natural

Green

Mercantile

Words

Queen

Economic

 The Symbolism of the Triads

 A triad is a sequence of three stones (blue, white, green) that has a specific divinatory meaning in the Great City oracle.

 Table 2  Symbolism of the Triads

Throw

Meanings

---

THE VOID Nullity, Emptiness, Negation

--+

THE QUEEN Singularity, Primacy, Autonomy

-+-

THE MYRMIDON Duality, Opposition, Conflict

-++

THE NYMPH Synthesis, Growth, Emergence

+--

THE WEB Existence, Being, Stasis

+-+

THE CHRYSALIS Change, Transformation, Concealment

++-

THE HIVE Multiplicity, Complexity, Interaction

+++

THE WORLD Totality, Completion, Wholeness

 To generate a triad, roll 1d8 three times in sequence, using each roll to set each triad-stone in sequence: blue, white, green. In other words, you never actually "flip" your triad stones; you roll a die that tells you to what value to set your stone.

  • 1 equals "minus becoming plus" (a moving minus)
  • 2 through 4 equals "minus"
  • 5 through 7 equals "plus"
  • 8 equals "plus becoming minus" (a moving plus)

A moving stone is in flux; it affects the interpretation of triad-pairs and has other game-mechanical effects as well, described separately. It is represented by placing a scarab under the stone; such a scarab is called a "vested" scarab, and is distinct from a "free" scarab, possessed by players as part of their "purse" or pool.

 The Symbolism of the Triad-Pairs

Triad-pairs result from the juxtaposition of pairs of triads, as the name suggests. The first triad is the one that represents or otherwise stands for the "active character"--usually the one who is in the spotlight in the given scene. The second triad represents the "responsive character" in the scene.

Each triad-pair has a name, representing its overall thrust, and a judgment, detailing in a single sentence the oracle's meaning or specific import. The judgments of the oracle are admittedly cryptic, and often one must rely on their component triads as well as one's own unfettered imagination to make sense of them.

Table 3 * Symbolism of the Triad Pairs * 

1st

2nd

Name. Judgment.

000

000

001

010

011

100

101

110

111

Initial Difficulty. Foolish actions cause problems.

Inexperience. Wisdom & knowledge are needed here.

Windfall. There is good fortune & gain.

Gathering. You must assemble your resources.

Falling Apart. Your means are inadequate to your ends.

Restriction. You are held back; no gain or progress.

Contemplation. Introspective thought is required.

Change of Heart. Pettiness recedes; greatness advances.

001

000

001

010

011

100

101

110

111

Good Omens. There are signs of progress.

Thunderous Noise. Progress requires concentration.

Reversed Fortune. Gains slip away or are taken.

Self-Reliance. The help of others is of little use here.

Stalemate. No progress is possible.

Nightmare. Your worst fears haunt you.

Increase. Gains are realized.

Unrequited Desire. You do not obtain what you wish.

 Table 3, continued

1st

2nd

Name. Judgment.

010

000

001

010

011

100

101

110

111

Contentiousness. A strong leader mends factiousness.

Reserves of Strength. Vigorous action removes obstacles.

Perils Abound. Sincere effort avoids many dangers.

Oppression in Plenty. You are bound by material things.

Heartache. You have cause for grief.

Irrevocability. Striking changes take place.

Homegoing. Your path leads you toward home.

Conflict. You are met with strong opposition.

011

000

001

010

011

100

101

110

111

Coming Together. Circumstances align in your favor.

Weight of Ambition. Your aims overreach.

Self-Restraint. You are held back from excess.

Listening. Useful knowledge is revealed.

Respite. The strong falter; the weak strengthen.

Quick Thinking. A rapid shift avoids disaster.

Sincerity. Indirection and irony prove fruitless.

Careful Advance. Progress slows, danger presses.

100

000

001

010

011

100

101

110

111

Modest Refuge. Safety lies in humility.

Vertigo. To descend is better than to ascend.

Standstill. Your efforts prove fruitless.

Suasion. You are swayed by words.

Entrapment. Forces act to slow your progress.

Rapid Advance. The way forward is now clear.

Expansion. There is growth and increase.

Dignified Retreat. A careful withdrawal is in order.

101

000

001

010

011

100

101

110

111

Darkness Comes. The position is difficult.

Difficulty. The position is perilous.

Wracking. Much is lost.

Novelty. Unanticipated events occur.

Empty Victory. Action brings no advantage.

Obedience. You must be humble and subservient.

Family Matters. Familty interests require your attention.

Good Company. You find aid in your efforts.

110

000

001

010

011

100

101

110

111

Ascent. You move toward fulfilling your aspirations.

Perseverance. Firm and consistent efforts bring progress.

Generosity. It is advantageous to be open-handed.

Perception. A weakness is now discernible.

Sanctuary. It is advantageous to cross the threshold.

Cauldron. Ferment brings change.

Discernment. Nuanced judgment is needed.

Confrontation. You face a foe who is bold & strong.

 Table 3, continued

1st

2nd

Name. Judgment.

111

000

001

010

011

100

101

110

111

Triumph. The humble, exalted; the mighty, brought low.

Kingliness. The great become strong.

Waiting. Past efforts now bear fruit.

Breakthrough. The strong displace the weak.

Stealth. Indirection proves advantageous.

Command. You must be firm and forthright.

Delirium. Your senses are not to be trusted.

Fulfillment. Greatness penetrates and brings closure.

 CREATING SITUATION

 The Situation

 The Great City is in peril. Take the Great City's "Nay" purse and add one scarab to it for each player in the game, including the GM. The "Yea" purse begins empty.

 In this phase of the game, the players determine the current situation of the Great City; inherent within that situation is the nature of the peril that the Great City faces.

The GM generates a triad-pair (see above). Use two sets of triad stones to represent this triad-pair, placing them in the center of the table.

This triad-pair represents the initial situation of the Great City, and must be read or interpreted by the players (the GM acts as facilitator) to determine specific details.

For example, if the triad pair is +-+ -++ (101 011) or "Novelty: Unanticipated events occur," formed by the conjunction of the triads "the Chrysalis" and "the Nymph" in that order, it seems clear that the situation involves the unexpected development of a new form of servile insect by the scholar-breeders of the Great City.

If any of the stones for the triad were moving, they are flipped simultaneously and the new situation read to ascertain the trajectory or other implications of the situation. For example, if the second stone were moving in the triad-pair above, flipping that stone from minus to plus transforms the Chrysalis into the World (with its implications of wholeness and totality) and the entire triad-pair into "Breakthrough: the strong displace the weak." It seems likely that the new kind of servile insect has been created by an entomosynitheist of profound abilities patronized by a very wealthy aristocrat, and that the innovation is sufficiently advantageous that rival scholar-breeders cannot compete. Or perhaps the new breed is cannibalistic and preys upon other servile insect breeds, to the dismay of the people of the Great City. In any case, the players must reach consensus before proceeding further. Let us imagine they like the first option better.

The nature of the peril to the Great City must also be determined. Reduce the triad-pair to a single triad by matching corresponding elements of the first and second triads and creating a new triad with a plus (+) where ever the corresponding elements are the same and minus (-) where ever they're different. So in the case of the example triad pair above, the reduced triad is --+, or the Queen (having to do with singularity, primacy, and autonomy).

Imagine that the players agree that this can only mean that the danger to the Great City is that the servile insect innovation has given the new breed a sense of individual identity and self that will militate against their submitting to servitude. A bug rebellion is afoot!

However, the reduced triad also signals the "face of peril"--what is generally known or assumed to be troublesome or problematic in the world of the Great City. 

  • Blue +: The face of peril has a political dimension.
  • White +: The face of peril is a natural or scientific phenomenon.
  • Green +: The face of peril has an economic dimension.

So in the case of our example, the face of peril has an economic dimension. Imagine that the players agree that thus far the bug rebellion has taken the form of work slowdowns and sabotage in the spider-silk mills.

The Character Network

Use a piece of paper to record characters and their relationships (i.e., the pattern of their connections to each other). This "character network" consists of nodes (i.e., distinct labeled points) connected by ties (i.e., connecting lines). Ties are marked with a plus sign (a positive tie) or a minus sign (a negative tie). Ties are directional; they start from one character and end at another. Ties may be reciprocated, in that one character may have ties to and from the same other character, and multiplex, in that one character may have both a positive and a negative tie to another.

The Agents of Peril

The first characters you will record on the character network are the "agents of peril"; that is, characters implied by the situation whom the players envision as their own (as-yet-undefined) characters' antagonists.

As a group, create one to three characters as the agents of peril and note them on the character network. At this point, those characters need only be described in approximate or general terms. For example, in the case of the bug rebellion situation from the example above, imagine that the players decide the agents of peril are the Insect General, hidden mastermind and instigator of the rebellion, and the Rich Bug Merchant, who unwittingly aids the insect rebels by selling the new breed widely across the Great City and perhaps beyond. While the other players are creating their characters, the GM will set the attributes for the Agents of Peril.

GENERATING CHARACTERS

 To create a character, roll 1d8 three times to set your triad stones. This is your "character triad." If you have any moving stones, take scarabs and place them under the stones as described above in "The Symbolism of the Triads." This is called "vesting" the scarab in the stone; the function of vested scarabs is described below.

Human Characters

 First, allocate your +'s and –'s to the following traits:

  •  Age: old (+) or young (-)
  • Experience: urbane (+) or rustic (-)
  • Attitude: cruel (+) or kind (-)

Second, choose your class. If you have any "plus stones" (i.e., stones with the heads or + side up) or moving stones, you can choose to be a member of the class corresponding to the color of the stone. If you choose not to be a member of a class to which you are allowed to belong, you are a commoner (note: since commoners receive no game-mechanical benefit, the only reason to become one is if you are standing on principle).

  • Blue + : You can choose to be an aristocrat.
  • White + : You can choose to be one of the learned class.
  • Green + : You can choose to be of the mercantile class.

Next, determine your character's "intent" for the end-game. This is the player's answer for his or her character to the question, "Will you save the Great City?" The player may answer either yes or no, justifying or rationalizing that answer based on the throw of his or her triad stones. In other words: pick one of the stones you used to create your character. If that stone showed a plus, your answer is "yes"; if it showed a minus, your answer was "no." The reason for your answer must be based on the color of the stone, as follows:

  • Blue: Justify based on (proposed) deeds or actions.
  • White: Justify based on knowledge, beliefs, or perceptions.
  • Green: Justify based on relationships or interactions.

So, for example:

  • Blue + : "I will save the Great City by destroying its enemies."
  • Blue - : "I am not strong enough to save the Great City."
  • White + : "As the last bastion of humanity, it must be saved!"
  • White - : "For what we do to our slaves, we deserve destruction."
  • Green + : "I will defend the Great City to save my sister."
  • Green - : "No one here cares about me; why should I care for them?"

Give your character a name. Use the table below for inspiration; the names on that list evoke a rather alt-Victorian ambiance. Alter or replace that list with one of your own choosing to change the atmosphere to one you prefer. 

Table 4 * Great City Names *

Male Names

Female Names

Surnames

 1 Alonzo

 2 Ambrose

 3 August

 4 Barnabas

 5 Bartholomew

 6 Clement

 7 Edwin

 8 Eldon

 9 Ezra

10 Gideon

11 Hiram

12 Horace

13 Leander

14 Lucian

15 Marcellus

16 Ninian

17 Obadiah

18 Simeon

19 Ulysses

20 Victor

 1 Almyra

 2 Eva

 3 Fidelia

 4 Helene

 5 Jessamine

 6 Leah

 7 Lila

 8 Mahulda

 9 Mercia

10 Minerva

11 Orpha

12 Parthena

13 Philomena

14 Preshea

15 Rowena

16 Rufina

17 Sophronia

18 Viviana

19 Zona

20 Zylphia

 1 Alcorn

 2 Blackmore

 3 Clune

 4 Doak

 5 Frewen

 6 Gullifer

 7 Hyem

 8 Jessup

 9 Kothe

10 Luckett

11 Mellor

12 Nornan

13 Oke

14 Polmear

15 Rouwe

16 Shinnick

17 Swais

18 Threlfall

19 Touzel

20 Urwin

Bug Characters

 Allocate your +'s and –'s to the following traits:

  • Motive: hungry (+) or curious (-)
  • Ability: cunning (+) or strong (-)
  • Nature: self-aware (+) or instinctual (-)

Choose your class. If you choose not to have the insect belong to a class to which it is entitled, the insect is a worker.

  • Blue + : This insect may be a myrmidon (warrior).
  • White + : This insect may be a drone (thinker).
  • Green +  This insect may be a queen (leader).

 Give your character a name. Depending on your conception of bug society, this may be a human name, a pet name or work designation used by people who interact with the character, or it may be a bug-language name, taking the form either of an unpronouncable series of syllables or a rough human translation of the name.

Character Resources and Connections

Place your character as a node on the character network.

Each player takes 3 scarabs as his or her starting resources. The GM receives 4 scarabs per player (not including himself or herself) and 2 more per agent of peril, plus additional scarabs for the attributes of those agents.

  • If your character is an aristocrat or a myrmidon, you may vest a scarab under your blue stone.
  • If your character is learned or a drone, you may vest a scarab under your white stone.
  • If your character is of the mercantile class or a queen, you get two additional "free" scarabs. Additionally, you may vest a scarab under your green stone.

Once all characters are on the character network, go around the table and give each player the chance to connect his or her character to one other character on the sheet and label that tie as either positive or negative. The GM does the same for the agents of peril.

You may spend scarabs from your purse for additional ties on a one-for-one basis. It is permissible to have both a positive and a negative tie to another character, and for ties to be reciprocated by each other.

  • If your character is an aristocrat or a myrmidon, you get one additional tie, either positive or negative at your option, to any other aristocrat or myrmidon on the sheet.
  • If your character is urbane or self-aware, you get one additional tie of either kind.
  • If your character is cruel, you get one additional negative tie to any other character on the sheet. If your character is kind, you get one additional positive tie to any other character on the sheet.

PLAYING THE GAME

The game proceeds in scenes, each of which focuses on a single character. Other players may participate in that character's scene, even if their characters are not present in the scene.

The Mounting Peril. Put a stack of scarabs in the middle of the table; this is the "peril pool" for the game. When this pool is empty, normal play ends and the end-game begins. The size of the stack depends on the number of players: two players, 12 scarabs; three players, 24 scarabs; four players, 40 scarabs; five players, 60 scarabs. Any more and the game becomes unwieldy.

Initiative. Each player rolls 1d8. The player with the highest result starts the first scene. Resolve ties in class order (aristocratic/myrmidon, learned/drone, mercantile/queen, commoner/worker). Roll off if necessary. Play then proceeds around the table from the winner, with the GM coming at the end of the sequence (i.e., immediately before the winner's second and subsequent turns).

Running A Scene

(1) Start the Scene. The player declares his or her intended action for the scene, advancing the narrative line as desired from what has already been established. "I want to find the Bug General's hideout," or "I want to go about my daily activities, oblivious to the troubles around me."

Each scene involves an encounter of one sort or another between the focal or spotlight character and some other character, his or her foil. This should be construed rather broadly, however. So in the case of the first example given above, the scene may be framed as an encounter between the character and the Bug General, while in the second example it may shape up as an encounter between the character and the Great City in general (alternately, the GM may create a new character to personify exactly those troubles to which the spotlight character wishes to remain oblivious). There is room for negotiation, as when another player desires to interpose his or her character into the scene because he or she wants something from the spotlight character, but the preferences of the focal player take precedence.

(2) Ante. Take 1 scarab each out of the Mounting Peril pool for the foil and the spotlight character. Place them in the "ante," a pot of scarabs that will go to one of the players who participates in the scene. A player is allowed to ante from his or her own pool if taking from the pool is not desirable to him or her (typically, because he or she wishes to stave off the end-game).

(3) Establish the Initial Situation. Once the relevant characters are identified, the corresponding players throw their triad stones or, in the case of new GM character, the GM's dice. The GM reads the resulting triad-pair (focal character's triad first) as an indicator of the initial situation, describing that situation to the players. Other players must "buy in" to the scene for their characters by paying 1 scarab each to the ante.

(4) Flip Randomly. The GM then randomly flips one of the stones in the triad-pair to its opposite, using a six-sided die. The GM reads the name of the resulting triad-pair to the players, but not its judgment.

(5) Conduct Reaction Rounds. Starting with the spotlight player and going around the table in order (with the GM being situated at the end of the rotation, i.e., immediately prior to the spotlight player's turn on subsequent rounds of action), each player may:

(a) If his or her character is not in the scene, the player may ante a scarab and narrate his or her character's arrival.

(b) With or without a character present in the scene, the player may pass.

(c) With or without a character present in the scene, the player may affect the judgment of the oracle by flipping a stone via the use of traits, ties, and resources.

(d) With a character present in the scene, the player may accept the judgment of the oracle, and take the ante of scarabs into his or her purse. The  GM reads the judgment of the triad-pair, and the player assigns the right to interpret the judgment and narrate what it means to any other player who participated in the scene.

Using Traits. A trait can only be used to flip a stone if the character is in the scene. In order to use a trait, you must describe your character's deeds, thoughts, or words to flip a blue, white, or green stone respectively. Your description must fit the characterization in Table 5. For example, if you want to flip a blue stone, and your character is a kind, old, and urbane, you must describe deeds that are either helpful, cautious, or skillful. You can use a trait up to three times per scene, once each for deeds, thoughts, and words.

 Table 5 * Traits in Action *

Trait

DEEDS

THOUGHTS

WORDS

Young (-)

Old (+)

Rustic (-)

Urbane (+)

Kind (-)

Cruel (+)

Impulsive

Cautious

Vigorous

Skillful

Helpful

Harmful

Self-centered

Conventional

Common-sensical

Sophisticated

Good-hearted

Mean-spirited

Callow

Wise

Plain-spoken

Polished

Uplifting

Demeaning

Curious (-)

Hungry (+)

Strong (-)

Cunning (+)

Instinctual (-)

Self-Aware (+)

Inquisitive

Instrumental

--

--

--

--

--

--

Primitive

Clever

--

--

--

--

--

--

Imitative

Communicative

Note that "deeds" refer to any physical action, however subtle or overt. "Thoughts" refer to perceptions, beliefs, insights, and other acts of cognition. "Words" refer to utterances of all sorts, including inarticulate ones, so long as they can reasonably be construed as bearing meaning (so signs and written language count). Note that there is a grey area between deeds and words, at least: is pronouncing a couple husband and wife merely words, or a deed as well? The linguistic issues involved should be hashed out on a case-by-case basis by the players.

Using Ties. Ties can be used to flip a stone of any color belonging to the character to whom the tie is directed, but positive ties can only be used to flip a minus stone to the plus side, and negative ties can only be used to flip a plus stone to the minus side. The character from whom the tie emerges does not have to be present, but the player must show how the relationship (which should be described in line with the characterizations in Table 6) affects the current situation, preferably by role-playing an appropriate interaction.

So, for example, if a kindly aristocratic myrmidon-owner wishes to influence the efforts of an artisan (of the mercantile class) to obtain materials to craft fancy war-spurs, and the aristocrat has a positive tie to the artisan, the aristocrat must describe or act out his benevolent patronization of the artisan, perhaps something along the lines of, "You remember me saying to you, 'There, there, my good man, I'm sure this task is well within the range of your capabilities, even such as they are. Keep at it!'"

Note that there is some leeway in terms of deciding whether a character is socially inferior, superior, or a peer. In general, aristocrats are peers to each other and superior to everyone else, while commoners are peers to each other and inferior to everyone else. Members of the learned class are usually at least peers to mercantile class members, and often superior, though the richest mercantile-types consider themselves peers of all but the noblest aristocrat.

Table 6 * Human Ties in Action *

From (Type)

To Inferior

To Peer

To Superior

Aristocrat (+)

   kind

   cruel

Aristocrat (-)

   kind

   cruel

PATRONIZING

   benevolently

   arrogantly

JUDGMENTAL

   tolerantly

   disdainfully

OBLIGING

   gladly

   grudgingly

CONTENTIOUS

   good-naturedly

   disagreeably

--

 

 

--

Learned (+)

   kind

   cruel

Learned (-)

   kind

   cruel

PEDANTIC

   encouragingly

   demandingly

DEHUMANIZING

   unwittingly

   cold-bloodedly

ADMIRING

   respectfully

   enviously

DISDAINFUL

   regretfully

   gleefully

INGRATIATING

   affectionately

   sycophantically

FORMAL

   decorously

   icily

Mercantile (+)

   kind

   cruel

Mercantile (-)

   kind

   cruel

POLITE

   carefully

   dismissively

RUDE

   unknowingly

   harshly

GENEROUS

   open-handedly

   calculatingly

COMPETITIVE

   heartily

   rancorously

HELPFUL

   earnestly

   pointedly

OBSTRUCTIVE

   obsequiously

   maliciously

Commoner (+)

   kind

   cruel

Commoner (-)

   kind

   cruel

--

 

 

--

 

 

FRIENDLY

   honestly

   mockingly

UNFRIENDLY

   politely

   openly

SUBSERVIENT

   humbly

   cynically

INSOLENT

   defiantly

   sneakily

Bugs are more limited in their range of social relations.

Table 7 * Insect Ties in Action *

Insect Class

Positive Tie

Negative Tie

Myrmidon

Protective

Belligerent

Drone

Playful

Reticent

Queen

Benevolent

Haughty

Worker

Subservient

Destructive

You can use each tie once per scene.

Using Resources. You can also flip stones using scarabs. You can flip any one of your own stones or another player's by spending a free scarab from your purse. You should describe how your character uses his or her wealth, possessions, or other resources to influence the situation.

You may spend a vested scarab to flip the stone under which it's vested.

Spent scarabs go to the ante.

No one may re-flip a stone (i.e., flip it back again) until at least one other stone has been flipped subsequently. Note that this means that if someone has the wherewithal to flip all six stones on their reaction, no further flips are possible. However, if a stone has a scarab vested in it, the player who owns the stone may interrupt to move the vested scarab to the ante and immediately undo the flip, describing the character's impressive defense as he does so. The stone is still treated as flipped for the purposes of this "no immediate re-flip" rule.

After the player finishes his or her reaction (which may include multiple flips), the GM reads the name of the resulting triad-pair, but not the judgment.

(6) Take Rewards. At the end of each reaction round, each player who didn't pass and who has a character in the scene takes one scarab from the Mounting Peril pool. Additionally, a new scarab is added to the ante. Note that this doesn’t happen on any round where someone accepts the judgment of the oracle and takes the ante.

Ending the Scene

The player with narration rights has a lot of freedom to interpret the final triad-pair and affect the in-game situation. The player who won the ante has the option of distributing any amount of scarabs from his or her purse to a variety of places at this time.

  • to another player.
  • to be vested in one of his or her stones.
  • to the "Yea" or "Nay" purses.
  • to flip any stone in the Great City situation triad-pair.
  • to vest in any stone in the Great City situation triad-pair.

END GAME

Normal play ends when at the end of a scene the Mounting Peril pool is empty. At this point, the end-game begins.

The player with the most scarabs in his or her purse wins the right to narrate the fate of the Great City in the face of the peril, in line with the judgment of the Great City's triad-pair and the distribution of scarabs in the Great City Fate box--if there are more Yea scarabs than Nay scarabs, the City is presumed to survive the peril; otherwise, it is presumed to succumb.

In order from fattest to thinnest purse (resolve ties with a die roll), each player narrates his or her character's final fate in line with the judgment formed by combining the character's triad with either the first half of Great City's triad pair (if the character was committed to saving the Great City) or the second half of the Great City's triad pair (if the character was not committed to saving the Great City).

Nothing in later-occurring end-game narration can contradict narration that occurred previously.

NOTES

1. Say "EN tuh MUH suh NITH ee ist"; literally, "insect user": one of the learned scholar-breeders whose careful cross-breeding and genetic manipulation of insect species is responsible for the prosperity of human society.

2. Say "MEER muh don." A class of fierce warrior-insect, bred into fantastical new forms by entomosynitheists and trained in elaborate martial evolutions and demonstrations by the aristocrats of the Great City.

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A communication Ph.D., I teach public speaking and media-related courses in the middle of PA. I do research on scholarly/scientific communication, and I write & play roleplaying games.

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