This all makes perfect sense in my head.
PLAYING GREY RANKS
ANATOMY OF A SCENE
Grey Ranks takes place across nine Scenes in three Acts. Each Scene consists of a collective Mission, during which each character gets a moment of spotlight time for their individual Moment, and a Vignette, which is personal, introspective, and often framed as a flashback. Each three-scene Act can typically be resolved in a single play session.
(Explanation of the scene structure goes here)
1. Read and discuss the overview for the upcoming Scene as a group.
2. Choose situation elements, one per player, based on character Grid positions. Share these and note them somewhere everybody can refer to.
3. Choose a Mission Leader. The chosen player should outline the scope and particulars of the Mission, with everyone’s input.
4. Form the Scene Pool, with each player contributing two dice – one based on a Reputation aspect and the other based on their character’s position on the Grid.
5. Each player takes a die in turn from the Scene Pool, and then has another die allocated to them by another player.
6. The Scene begins, with Vignettes and Moments available for any player motivated to take them, in any order. Each is resolved at its conclusion.
7. The Scene ends when each player has initiated both a Vignette and a Moment for their character – when the entire Scene Pool has been rolled. Adjust the die of the Reputation elements used. Tally the total cumulative Mission score and compare it to the target to determine success or failure. Note Vignette success or failure, assign the Weak Link and MVP, and move characters on the Grid accordingly, in preparation for the next Scene.
Prior to beginning, each Scene has a brief overview that should be read out loud. Discuss which aspects of the events mentioned in the overview seem interesting and exciting to you as players, and which will be problematic to your characters. This provides context for the Mission, as well as the situation elements. It should serve as inspiration for individual Moments and Vignettes.
There are situation elements associated with each Grid position in Grey Ranks – ten of them for each, in fact. These take a variety of forms, some of which may be more compelling to a player than others. Some situation elements come in the form of relationship snippets. Some are names objects, or places, or people. Some is pulled from actual history.
Before every Scene, including the first, each player must choose a bit of situation to offer to the group. Any of the ten elements associated with a player’s Grid position is acceptable, and elements can be re-used – indeed, reincorporating situation elements from earlier Scenes can lead to powerful moments in play.
Each player should choose and announce the situation element they are offering at the beginning of the Scene. It’s probably a good idea to note these on a piece of scrap paper for everyone to review. Any player can invoke any offered situation element for a mechanical bonus. Situation elements need not be invoked, and they can be brought into Scenes multiple times – but the first time, they have an effect on the dice. After that, they are just satisfying color.
THE LEADER AND THE MISSION
Players choose a leader for the Mission, who will frame the overall operation based loosely on the Scene overview, situation elements, and his own ideas. The Leader position should rotate – it is a metagame consideration and does not reflect actual command within the crew (although it could be structured that way – individual crews have a lot of organizational flexibility). The simplest way to handle the Leader role is to rotate the duty from Scene to Scene.
The Leader has two jobs. He sketches out the Mission and determines the Weak Link at the end of the Scene.
Missions are collective. The group works together to reach a numeric objective equal to the number of players times the scene number. Thus, in Scene Seven in a four-player game, the objective is 28. The mission is a success if the cumulative score on Mission rolls is 28 or greater. The Mission is a failure if the cumulative score is less than 28. Mission success or failure are shared by all the characters.
THE SCENE POOL
BUILDING THE POOL
Each player contributes two dice to a scene pool.
One die is the size indicated on the player character’s position on the Grid. Depending on their initial Grid location, the die size for Scene One will be either a d6 or d8 for each player.
The other die is the size chosen from the two available Reputation aspects. Each player will choose one of their Reputations to use and contribute that aspect’s die size to the Scene pool.
USING THE POOL
Once the pool is built, each player in turn openly chooses any die in the pool for themselves. When every player has a single die, each player then allocates a remaining die to another player. They may then allocate their two pool dice to Mission and Vignette as they see fit.
FRAMING VIGNETTES AND MISSION MOMENTS
Every player has two moments in the spotlight during each Scene, their Vignette and a Mission Moment. There is no proscribed order in which Vignettes and Mission Moments should appear, although there is less pressure on players who take early Mission Moments in the Scene.
The goal of these spotlight moments is to frame a situation that will end in a conflict for which success and failure are both options. When the moment of conflict is reached, one two dice taken from the Scene Pool is rolled.
For the Vignette, the goal is to exceed the current Scene number on the die.
A roll over the Scene number is a success.
A roll under the Scene number is a failure.
A roll that ties the Scene number can be a success or failure at the player’s discretion.
For a Mission Moment, the goal is to achieve as high a roll as possible. Since the group works toward the mission goal collectively, any roll that does not exceed the current Scene number is actually harmful to the total effort.
In Scene Five of a four-player game, the Mission total is twenty (4 players times 5, for Scene Five). Two players, during their Mission Moment, each end up with a 5, for a total of 10 out of 20. The third player ends up with a 3, for a total of 13 out of 20. For the Mission to be a success, the final player must end his Mission with a 7 or more. If he merely pulls his weight (getting a 5 in this case) the Mission will fail.
WHAT IS A VIGNETTE?
Vignettes interrupt the narrative flow of a mission. Every player will have a personal vignette in every scene. It can come at any time, interrupting the flow of the mission. A vignette should be a flashback to events that occurred off-camera during a preceding scene, or perhaps before the game began. Vignettes that include the maxing out any category can be contemporary with a mission if that makes dramatic sense.
Vignettes should 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 bonus to the success of the mission.
Remember that 17 year olds enjoy a +1 bonus to their Vignette roll 15-year-olds suffer a -1 penalty to theirs.
WHAT IS A MISSION?
INDIVIDUAL SUCCESS OR FAILURE DURING MISSIONS
A Mission roll provides some narrative guidance for a player. Beyond making things difficult for other team-mates, failing to exceed the Scene number means a character has failed his particular portion of the Mission as well, with an effect left up to the player to define.
MODIFYING DIE ROLLS
Depending on the circumstances, dice can be changed in size up or down, incremented by one or more numeral up or down, or re-rolled entirely. There are seven ways to change a die roll.
ACTING YOUR AGE
If your character is fifteen, always increment your Vignette die result down by one and your Mission die result up by one. If your character is seventeen, always increment your Mission die result down by one and your Vignette die result up by one.
Mike’s character Jadwiga, who is 15, has a d8 allocated to her Vignette. Mike rolls a 6, which is immediately adjusted to a 5 due to her youth and inexperience. She’ll do better during the Mission, where her blind enthusiasm will allow her to take insane risks.
The first time a Situation element is included in a Scene, the die for that Vignette or Mission Moment is, at the player’s discretion, bumped up or down by one.
One of the Situation elements in Scene Five is “Gardening with the Grandparents”. Steve claims this and describes, as part of his Vignette, a flashback of flirting with his girlfriend as they tend a row of pole beans. He rolls a 6 and his d6 but, wanting to fail, he adjusts it down to a 5.
Implicitly tying your Vignette to the Mission, or vice versa, allows the second die, at the player’s discretion, to be re-rolled. Alternately, implicitly tying the current Mission to one at least one Scene removed (not the previous Scene, in other words) will also earn a re-roll. If you have the skills to deftly tie it all together, by all means enjoy two re-rolls.
Continuing the above example, Steve describes the freshly-churned earth torn up by mortar impacts, and the earthy smell transports his character for a moment back to that flirtatious Vignette scene. Steve rolls his Mission die, a d10, and gets a 2. Since he reincorporated, he re-rolls and gets a 7 – a success.
EXPOSING THE THING YOU HOLD DEAR
Invoking the Thing You Hold Dear allows you to replace your pool die for that Vignette or Mission Moment with a d12, or to adjust any die up or down by three.
The thing Jadwiga, Mike’s character, holds dear is her faith. In Scene Three, Mike describes Jadwiga attending church amid the bombing during the German invasion in 1939, when she was just a child. He replaces one of his dice with a d12.
DESTROYING SOMETHING HELD DEAR
Destroying a thing any player holds dear allows you to replace your pool die for that Vignette or Mission Moment with a d12, or to adjust any die up or down by three.
Steve, in Scene Eight, is desperate. He doesn’t have the dice he needs to succeed, and failure will kill Janek, his character. He describes the destruction of Warsaw cathedral, the thing his friend Jadwiga holds dear, her very soul, and exchanges his d8 for a d12.
WRAPPING UP A SCENE
The Scene is over when all the pool dice have been rolled. Each player will roll two dice, one during their Vignette and one during the Mission.
DETERMINING MISSION SUCCESS
Add up the Mission Moment rolls of all the players. If the cumulative total equals or exceeds the target number (Scene number times number of players), the Mission was a success.
THE WEAK LINK
Each Scene will have a Weak Link. Weak Link is determined by Leader immediately after the Scene concludes. He can choose himself. Unlike the other players, the Weak Link moves double – twice in the same direction.
Each Scene will also have an MVP, who is voted on by all the players. The vote is secret – have every player close his eyes, point to the MVP (it can be himself) and then count to three and open eyes. In the event of a tie, there is no MVP. Note that MVP stands for Most Valuable Player, not necessarily most valuable character. It should be a reward for teamwork, but it should also be a reward for exciting scene framing, description, and enthusiasm.
The Scene MVP, as voted on by all the players, may choose to move his character in any direction or not move at all.
At the conclusion of a Scene, the Reputation aspect used is either incremented or decremented by one die size for each player, based on success or failure.
Finally, at the end of the Scene adjust every character’s position on the Grid.
A character’s position on the Grid indicates the size of the die they contribute to the pool, as well as the table from which they draw their next Situation element. Success and failure move a character around the Grid. The corners of the Grid represent desperate, self-destructive extremes of emotion.
In the upper corner, where love and enthusiasm meet, is recklessness and martyrdom.
In the left corner, where love and exhaustion meet, await nervous breakdown and shell shock.
In the lower corner, where hate and enthusiasm meet, is derangement and insanity.
In the left corner, where hate and exhaustion meet, is suicidal depression.
If your character moves into a corner and either stays there for two consecutive Scenes or returns to that same corner later in the game, he’s written out of the story.
Winning a Vignette moves a character toward love. Losing moves him toward hate.
Winning a Mission Moment moves all the characters toward enthusiasm. Losing moves them toward exhaustion.
Winning a Vignette and winning the Mission moves a character up one space.
Winning a Vignette and losing the Mission moves a character left one space.
Losing a Vignette and losing the Mission moves a character down one space.
Winning a Vignette and winning the Mission moves a character right one space.
If you reach an edge and must continue, it represents a radical change in mental state – loop around to the opposite side of the Grid. For example, if your character is at C1 and wins his Vignette but loses the Mission, he moves left, wrapping around to C5. He crashes from high enthusiasm to extreme exhaustion.
Now you’re ready to begin the next Scene!