Work continues of Grey Ranks. I took Eric’s advice to heart and tied narration to mechanical effect – it is still a little wobbly, but I think I’m on the right track. Missions still need some about-ness – conflicts are pretty vague as it stands. Also, resource expenditures for vignettes are unbalanced and the amount of currency you get per scene (currently 6.6 plus a couple more if you narrate thoughtfully) is probably off kilter. That’s easy to fix. The thing I like most is that I took away the all or nothing nature of missions and replaced it with “failure = hurt another PC”, which is a good trade. Tell me what you think! (long post follows)
Tokens are the currency of Grey Ranks. You can use them to further your character’s romantic ambitions, to aid in the success of a mission, or to save your own skin.
At the beginning of each act (not each scene!), draw twenty tokens. These are free, and every player gets the same amount. You can use them across the three scenes of each act however you please. A reasonably even division makes the most sense, but if you absolutely don’t want to fail in scene seven, blow them all and suffer through scenes eight and nine token-less.
You can earn a free token by being the first person to narrate in a setting element (one token per element), and by metaphorically or explicitly tying your vignette to the ongoing mission that surrounds it.
SEQUENCE OF PLAY
Grey Ranks is divided into a prologue, nine scenes, and an epilogue. The prologue and epilogue have no mechanical components. The prologue is a time for establishing character and mood and the epilogue is intended for debriefing and saying goodbye to the game and its personalities.
Each scene takes place on a specific day during the Uprising — scene four takes place on 2 August 1944, for example. A scene is framed by a mission, in which all the player characters will take part, interspersed with vignettes unique to each character.
HOW MISSIONS WORK
This section describes how missions function, but remember that they do not occur in isolation. The following steps will constantly be interrupted by vignettes, which can have a profound effect on the mission’s course.
1. SET THE MISSION PARAMETERS
If it is the first scene in an act (one, four, or seven), hand out twenty tokens to each player. Read the overview of the scene. Each player must introduce an element from the setting charts — a person, object, or event determined randomly. Once these are determined for the scene, discuss and agree on a likely mission arising from these elements. Any player may narrate setting elements into the mission or their vignette, and each element provides a one token bonus the first time it is invoked. Using the setting elements you’ve collectively drawn, discuss the upcoming mission. Everyone should participate in outlining the events, locations, and obstacles in a broad way.
2. BUILD THE MISSION POOL
Each player puts a number of dice into the mission pool equal to the scene number — starting with one die and ending, in scene nine, with nine. Together, these represent the overall challenge of the mission to come. The initial number of dice in the mission pool is always the number of players times the scene number. The goal of the players during every mission is to deplete this pool — when it is empty, the mission is over.
3. NARRATE CONFLICTS
Players take turns narrating conflicts that propel the mission forward. Each conflict is represented by a die or dice from the mission pool.
4. USING DICE
In mission conflicts, one die is the default and is always free. Additional dice come at a cost. Any number of extra dice can be “bought” by spending tokens not used in vignettes or by losing one of your own character’s youthful traits. There is no limit to the number of dice you can purchase from the mission pool and roll. Since big rolls hasten the end of the mission, they are to be encouraged — at least by your team-mates. Roll the die or dice after you’ve stated the nature of the conflict.
Success: If the roll is greater than the current scene number (1-9), the result is a success. The dice rolled are removed from the pool for the rest of the scene. Narrate the outcome and then continue the mission.
Failure: If the roll is less than the current scene number, the player character fails the conflict. Just as with success, the dice are removed from the pool. As a penalty of failure, the player must choose another player charcter (not his own) to lose a youthful trait. This should figure prominently in the narration describing the failure.
Each player may interrupt the mission with a single vignette whenever he chooses. Vignettes are relationship-focused moments affecting individual player characters. Each player must contribute a vignette to each scene. The vignette player frames the scene and assigns roles. Allocate tokens and resolve the vignette by rolling two dice – equal to or less than the number of tokens allocated is a success. On failure, lose something the character holds dear. If the vignette is tied thematically to the mission, add a free token to the mission pool. Role-play the outcome of the scene. If you fail six vignettes, your character will literally die.
Vignettes interrupt the narrative flow of a mission. They can take place during a mission in-game, but they are more likely to be flashbacks. Vignettes should ideally be crafted to offer a compelling tie-in to, or commentary on, the mission. For example, perhaps the mission reaches a point where the player characters are pinned down by machine gun fire. A player narrates the terror his character feels, and immediately jumps into his vignette, which focuses on how his character overcame the fear of telling his girlfriend he loved her. Tying vignette to mission provides a one token bonus.
If you lose all of either things you hold dear or youthful traits, your character will die in the next scene — make your death mean something. While you have six of each (and can afford to lose a total of ten), you have little control over the loss of youthful traits. Your fellow players will be assigning most of those. The player about to lose his character may choose a setting element rather than rolling randomly.
* * *
Steve, playing the Girl Guide Henia, and Mike, playing the Boy Scout Marek, are ready to begin scene six — 7 August, with the general theme of “German tanks against home-made rifles”. They decide this sounds cool and agree to generally take it literally.
Steve chooses a place, and introduces “Church of the Holy Cross in Old Town”. Mike chooses an event, and brings in “A badly injured German soldier, Gefreiter Horst Kuhn, is hiding in a ditch”.
There are two of them, and it is scene six, so the mission pool will have 12 dice in it. After some hard fighting in the rest of the act, each of them only has five tokens left.
STEVE: Okay, let’s go. We’re at a barricade on Jerusalem avenue, Henia and Marek, waiting for a German attack we know is coming. They’ve been probing all day and it is just inevitable. And the two of us are stuck behind this barricade, and we’ve stuck up a bunch of copper pipes to look like the gun barrels of Home Army troops who are just not here. It’s you and me.
MIKE: Awesome. What’s going on?
STEVE: We’re huddling up against an overturned tram car. The ground is literally shaking as a German tank rounds the corner, and we’re staring at each other in complete terror. I want a conflict — I’m afraid Henia’s going to pee her pants.
MIKE: One die?
STEVE: Better make it two … I’ll spend a token.
(STEVE spends a token, rolls two dice, and gets a seven. Henia holds her tea and screws up her courage.)
MIKE: Oh, that’s great. I want my vignette now.
STEVE: Go for it! Who am I?
MIKE: My old girlfriend, Jadwiga. It’s a flashback, and I’m giving it all five tokens.
STEVE: We can’t afford that!
MIKE: No choice. Marek and Jadwiga are praying in the Church of the Holy Cross, the night before the Uprising is to commence. The pews are filled, and the hymns are being sung so loud that the ground seemed to shake. This memory comes to Marek as the tank approaches, and he uses it to pluck up his courage.
STEVE: Very cool. Introducing the church, a setting element, gives you an extra token.
MIKE: I’ll use it to bump up my vignette from five to six. And connecting my vignette to the mission – the vibration, and how Marek’s courage is returning at the memory of it — means I get to toss an extra token, which I’ll use later. Time to roll.
(Mike rolls two dice, hoping for a six or less, and gets an eleven — failure.)
STEVE: Something you holds dear just went up in smoke, dude.
(Mike, as Marek, and Steve, as his girlfriend, play out a scene in the rectory of the Church of the Holy Cross, in which they part angrily. Moving back to the mission, Mike narrates a courier arriving to tell them that the church has been dynamited by the Germans, and he crosses “my faith” off Marek’s list.)
MIKE: Okay, let’s get back to business — there’s a tank rumbling down Jerusalem avenue straight at us. Marek’s standing up and tossing a Molotov cocktail at the half-open commander’s hatch.
STEVE: How does it go down?
MIKE: I have one token, so I’m buying another die from the mission pool.
(MIKE rolls two dice and gets an eight — higher than the scene number, six, and thus a success. The dice are removed from the pool, leaving ten. As the tank grinds to a halt, he declares his vignette, which focuses on him standing up to a bully — earning another free token after some discussion on whether it really ties in. STEVE could put all four of his remaining tokens into his vignette, but instead he chooses to hold one back for the mission and use only three. Although a three or less is a long shot, he miraculously succeeds and does not lose anything he holds dear.
STEVE: Henia runs up to the burning tank and pulls a guy out of it. He’s the German gunner, badly burned and screaming. Henia gets him out and isn’t sure what to do — some sort of rage is washing over her.
MIKE: Holy crap! That’s a conflict, and a bonus token for introducing the setting element, too!
STEVE: Thanks, I guess I’m taking some liberties, exchanging the ditch for the tank.
MIKE: No problem, that’s awesome. So you’re beating this guy up as he’s lying there, horribly burned and screaming. And Marek’s never seen this side of you, and it is not right. And Marek starts to move, to stop her, but he can’t. He just stands there, fascinated. Time to roll.
(STEVE uses his newly-earned token to buy an extra die and loses the conflict.)
STEVE: Henia’s absolutely insane with rage. She clears the action on her home-made submachinegun and points it at the tanker’s head. And she looks up at Marek, and stares into his eyes as she pulls the trigger. Dude, I’m sorry, but I lost the conflict and I have to make you grow up a little.
MIKE: Whoa. OK, we’re in bad shape here. (MIKE scratches off “Happy go lucky” from Marek’s sheet). We’ve still got 6 dice to wade through before this mission is over, and I am all out of tokens.