Maybe I'll try working myself around to the actual topic here.
When you create and publish something, you expose yourself automatically - and rightly - to a world of shit. When you create and publish something provocative, the more so.
How much shit can you bear? Like, when it comes to shit on the internet, I'm a hard fucker and I was birthed in fire. I've been getting hate mail since before I had paying customers. Still, how much shit before you start backing off?
I'd like to talk about why Poison'd is as humane as Apocalypse World but bolder and more ambitious, but it's a topic that'll take me some working up to. I haven't figured out quite how to get there yet.
Moreso that AW, I've found that Poison'd can get off the skids. It takes fortitude to keep it going because the naive take on character creation is: most effective pirate is the most brutal, and that leads rapidly to pirates that no one wants to see again. Our bright points wind up being things like rescue-cum-rape.
More even-keel characters, think I, would last longer, and wouldn't have the magnetic draw to gore and awfulness, but there's a sort of brinksmanship at the table that means as a crew you have to look past brutality as immediately powerful.
It always surprises me that we don't hit the endgame condition 5 minutes after the poisoning.
I haven't played, mostly because you've written things about how it's hard to GM correctly and how Graham is good at it, but lots of people fuck it up. And there's not enough in the book to steer me. But you laid it all out in AW so clearly -- there's enough to help the dopes like me get it right.
I've played it a couple times. The game where Emily and I were trying desperately to out-run the ship of the line that was bearing down on us was great, doomed fun. We were capable pirates that ran into a bad bit of luck and died like rats.
I think Judson's right about the naive assumption that the most effective pirate is the most brutal; it seems like the reverse is more often the case. The *capacity* for brutality, sure, but the regular action of captaining a pirate ship seems more about effectively managing your resources than about seeing how horrific you can be.
So, I've read Poison'd a few times, both as a game I'd be interested in playing, a game to study some design methods, and to evaluate claims that AW was basically a sophisticated Poison'd hack. Plus, I've heard some "things", which actually surprised me, because reading through the rules didn't generate the notion in my head that they led inescapably to the more horrible stuff, but maybe I was just evaluating the incentives wrong or assume too PG a play style to really realize the implications of game mechanic effects of doing things like murder and rape and making deals with the devil.
content-wise, Poison'd is awesome. As a read, the manual packs a lot of sweet promises, and the game does -sort of- deliver, BUT?
techniques-wise, my experience is that Poison'd is tough to operate: the seams joining the disparate subsystems are as tall as hills; it features a great jump-in point, but from there on I can't really master the art of pacing it to make the game fit in with real-life schedule (sometimes it turns into a 60' one-shot when you were planning to play longer, sometimes the campaign just goes on forever) and never have I achieved a sense of closure from the game when playing as a GM. Do these points make any sense to you?
Techniques-wise, Apocalypse World is in many ways a very successful refinement of Poison'd. So, maybe make a Poison'd 2nd Edition?
Vincent, Apocalypse World likable? Yes, verily. But as for growing to love it (so much in fact that it's now maybe become my favorite lumpley game)? It was the NOT NICE things it did me that made me love Apocalypse World, not the nice ones.
Read it, played it once. My friends who played on my recommendation didn't like it. I'm trying to figure out how to get a wave-based game of it going for 8 or so people (so that the ship can be even more... "functional." and small-group politics rise to the fore.
I've read and tried to run Poison'd, failing horribly. Character creation was great, but then the pirates tried to do something -- fight the other ship, I think -- and I realized I had no idea how to do that. We quit right there on the spot, which is the only time that's happened to me in a game, ever.
I complained about it to Vincent a lot and he said: "This game isn't for you, it's for people who already know how to run Shadownrun." Which I was annoyed by: why sell me a game I can't facilitate? I also thought I knew how to run Shadowrun, more or less, but Apocalypse World has since shown me I didn't (by showing me how to actually run Shadowrun).
I could probably run it now, I suspect, but I doubt I'd be much good at it without a lot of practice and loosening up. I feel like I'm really not that into reveling in or being horrified by wickedness and bet I would find it pretty distracting just as background noise to the real story between the characters. I wasn't really attracted by the brinksmanship of horrible deeds in Kill Puppies either, actually.
Poison'd isn't really a polished ruleset, in my opinion. I occasionally have to fudge things: for example, when players fail to attack a ship, but they really need to go ashore for the plot to progress.
But it does very, very clever things. For me, it's that "view of humanity" thing I mentioned above. The way ambition pushes you to do bad things. The way being brutalised makes you more brutal.
I've read Poison'd and I so so much want to play it because its mechanics are so smart and elegant. At least I think they are. In fact, its the smartest mechanics I have seen.
I've only just this weak started to MC our AW mini-campaign and it was kind of hard to start off. The players made this fantasyish, isolated, half-teflon characters (like a retired gunlugger who swore off violence and likes to tend to his vegetables) and I didn't really realize it until after the game. That made it hard to kickstart that special 1st session. In fact I think I failed in that particular regard as an MC and kind of hit them with a quest... fail. AW lacks Poison'd's ambition and bargain mechanos which could have helped me in this situation.
Vincent, I understand your opening remarks as follows: In Poison'd, we are all monsters to some degree and we push for the limits and over them - but we are still all literally in the same boat and unless we die, we will see the consequences of what we did coming back. AW is "Die, fucker, die! BAM BA???M!" followed by "And then I drive back home."
And: If ever I get to play Poison'd I'll probably just cut the whole fuck and rape stuff out of it and set it way behind a line. I don't really see what purpose it serves anyway. IMO murder, maiming, slaughter is more than enough do demonstrate the evil in humans.
Where I live it seems to be either we play without rape or I play it on my own. Can't say I blame the players: I wouldn't want to play that either. I hope Poison'd isn't all or nothing. I really want to play it, just not the fuck and rape parts. I could expand on that but that subject has been discussed already a lot and I am probably already off-topic anyway.
I can see that it's a crucial part of the design. I guess you also see that that particular part isn't appreciated by everybody?
Poison'd may have a more challenging and coherent view about humanity at the edge, but it's not coherent about humanity in general. It's about the brutal edge of a frayed and tormented existence. I think we can learn a lot about humanity from looking at that, but in many ways it's incomplete, because humanity is about the softer, more civilized things too. Poison'd is the Yin without the Yang.
The sex moves in Apocalypse World offer something of this other side of humanity. They highlight the relationships between people as human beings, as characters bond with each other in ways that resonate with our own real lives. Hx and experience changes are also examples of that. Human bonds are there at the heart of Apocalypse World, the same way that being a monster, even if only by accident, is at the heart of Poison'd.
Since there seem to be a fair number of people who are in the "interested in playing" camp, https://plus.google.com/u/0/117576739522948548414/posts is a link to my looking for group. When we reach critical mass, we'll start.
You did get more hate mail with Poison'd than with Kill Puppies For Satan? Why did you not make a web page of that one, too? :-)
I am still a fan of Dogs in the Vineyard as your best game. I suppose I am a traditionalist at heart, I like old games... (and Westerns). I played both Poison'd (with Graham, once) and AW, though.
The impression I get is that you stepped back with AW not so much on the "sex and violence" dial, as on the "Hollywood dial". poison'd was completely anti-Hollywood, anti any gamers expectations. While AW is, at least at face value, much more gamer-friendly. In AW you are a cool guy, you do cool things, you have bullets and gasoline, and bad people to shoot... gamers heaven!
In AW there is even more violence than in Poison'd. But in AW you get "xp" for that... (it's funny that most gamers think of AW as the most moral of the two... ;-) )
But pirates, cars, bondage gear, machine-guns... tsk, I would choose a old Colt Dragoon Gun, a Horse, and a John Ford sunset any day!
Moreno, not "bad people" to shoot, just PEOPLE to shoot! "Make everyone human", see? If there's any NPC in your AW game you feel you can shoot without a second thought, man, I contend you're playing Apocalypse World wrong.
I haven't read or played Poison'd, but I did read a lot of actual play threads, and at least one time thought "That's really messed up... and kind of hot. hmm."
There's this thing I've been thinking about where you love something because you feel like 'I'm the only person IN THE WORLD that could love this thing!'(Probably incorrectly) I felt like that way about cross-eyed kitties, and weird nerdy girls, and Achewood. Do you think you feel that way about rapey tabletop rpgs?
I feel like there's a lot of talk about what you do in games. While I'm quite impressed by my read of Poison'd, I don't want to do the things the game is about doing. I also feel like the theme is depravity. Dogs and AW, I'd play either at the drop of a hat but they are about morality and scarcity which I am much more interested in.
Just FYI: Poison'd isn't about depravity, and the view of humanity it expresses is anything but grim, except if you think that "victims of violence are desensitized to violence" is "grim." I find the alternative much more grim, myself.
If you take "rape" off the list of sins it means raping someone is no big deal, in your game. If you take "rape" off of the list of sufferings, it means being raped is no big deal, in your game.
Consider what happens in apocalypse world if your character rapes someone (say, your Gunlugger). Now consider what happens in Poison'd. Likewise for a character getting raped. Which game has a more sensitive, accurate, and humane treatment of the topic?
I ran one session of Poison'd once. This was right after Mouse Guard had gone a bit off the rails with one of the PCs starting a cult to raise an army to kill an owl, and getting most of her army killed in the process. She was the player who played the most evil PC in any game we played, to the point of actually scaring someone away from a Sorcerer game. I thought that Poison'd would probably work well for her because playing evil people was part of the premise. But, I was wrong. I enjoyed the game; one of three players, the one who created the least evil pirate, who just wanted to get amnesty and settle down in france, he enjoyed the game, but the girl with the evil PCs, she hated it. You see, she really enjoyed camaraderie in RPGs, being on the same side as the other PCs, and Poison'd, it kind of calls the PCs out on what horrible people they are. They can see each other being evil and dangerous, and they realize they don't want to be associated with each other, and they turn against each other. It's like the part of Reservoir Dogs where Mr. Orange shoots Mr. Blonde. So, we didn't play a second session, even though I felt like that game was really going places. A month later we started our first Apocalypse World game, and that's the single game we've played the most sessions of since. But I still want to try Poison'd again sometime, and I want to play a full game of it, and I want it to work, because in apocalypse world, I've found that evil often goes punished, the PCs can do whatever the fuck they want, sometimes, and I think Poison'd might be the game that turns that around.
Me! I ran it at least six times, some of that multiple sessions, and played in few games as well, both the older (the one where GM had a handful of X's all the time) and newer version. My favourite part of Poison'd is starting with (more or less) the same situation and observing how different games we get each time. So we had: a bunch of mutineers, rapists and ex-priests trying to fight with supremacy of British crown; mixed band of random people from Malaysia, Arabia and such, most of them wanting to go back home; bloody occult sexual thingy with people who can't control their desires and die because of that; relatively calm story about pirates who struggle to cooperate, despite all the nasty things, and who manage to carve a small pirate empire in South America; totally McCarthy's Blood Meridian-like brutal and depressing story about killing to survive; and so on so forth. Really cool.
Er. Um. Erm. But The Brainer is in AW. And 'unnatural lust transfixion' is right there in the list of the brainer's moves. And it doesn't say anywhere in the book about the sex move needing to be consensual and well Lively never was big on the concept of consent and the other guy was already strapped to a table and nobody rolled to interfere and um er um errrm the move's success was its own reward and its own punishment. That player chose to retire Lively first chance he got. Smart player.
Quick, salvage the situation by turning it into a teachable moment... Next edition, make that explicit in the rules? As much as you shouldn't have to?
In Apocalypse World, rape would most often fall under "seize by force," and no, your special move wouldn't happen.
Well, technically, the battlebabe special move would still happen... ;-)
I would like to add my voice to the ones that defend Poison'd from these false accusation of being a game that push character to rape! I can attest that this isn't true. In my last game with Graham, my character even SAVED his character from being raped. Ever.
By blowing up her body with a barrel of gunpowder. After shooting her to death.
I had promised her that I would protect her from rape, after all...
David: do you count bargaining with God or Devil (literally) as realistic / historical? I had that in most of games I played, it worked great. Stuff like giant squids, direct interventions of Yahweh and voodoo magic works fine as well. I imagine playing the game as e.g. pirates in space or something like that, no problem (although some changes in cruel fortunes might be needed). I wouldn't say that as written it is realistic or historical, really; just look at the cruel fortunes and "when you're dying" bargains.
I always thought Poison'd was the better game, but I though that was because I was dumb and missing something about AW. I probably thought this for the wrong reasons...
Played Poison'd in the 40k Rogue Trader verse and it worked just as great. No rules changes needed for us (except maybe pistol conflicts if I recall correctly) just some flavor to Chainswords, Bolt Pistols, Macro Batteries and Lances.
The barriers to entry with Poisn'd Vs AW start right up front with the form factors of the two books. Was the weird size and shape planned from the start, or did it just make some kind of sense when it was done? And if so, can you explain your design thinking there?
juliusz: Yeah, I was thinking something something like the voodoo and other types of magic you find in addition to God and Devil, such as in Monkey Island, or Caribbean (of course), or On Stranger Tides (the book); maybe especially the last one, with ghosts, loa, and blood magic, but that's the one that people seem to have heard the least about.
I was also curious about space pirates and the like, though I was more doubtful about them. I'm glad to hear that 40k Rogue Trader went well with Poison'd.
And to answer the earlier question: I've not played it nor heard of it before buying it sight unseen a few weeks back. Having read it, I can see where you put more *work* into Poison'd than AW, but I can also see how AW more closely resembles a game than Poison'd does.
Methinks some of your games secretly wish they were more than games, and Poison'd is one of them. Lior's comments about all being in the same boat are the most relevant, I think; the roles in Poison'd are much more clearly defined and intertwined due to the setting, which just about makes it a drama waiting to happen.
I can clearly see where the sex and rape do need to be in there, though. Also telling, IMHO, is the 'adults only, please' disclaimer on the front of Poison'd, which is absent in AW.
Here's where I draw the line: I'd have no qualms about introducing someone to RPGs through AW, but I'd have qualms about introducing someone to RPGs through Poison'd. Would you?
Well well, I happened by and there's an interesting topic about Poison'd here - who knew?
Poison'd is easily Vincent's best game. It packs the most ambitious design with the most passionate creative challenge for the best price and least fluff to page through. (IaWA is second-best by this measure and kpfs third in case it matters.) My most serious complaint about Poison'd is that some bits could have been written more clearly (same problem IaWA has, interestingly). My second-most is that I'm not certain that the Cruel Fortunes can really be used as written without knowing the list by heart. Both of those are really minor things by my measure as a customer, I'll always pick the rough jewel over polished rock - I'm well capable of handling the polish myself, after all. Definitely worth a read for anybody seriously into roleplaying, and worth playing for anybody who can handle it. (And I'm not even saying that it's particularly difficult to handle - if you can take Sorcerer, you can take Poison'd.)
Aside from the above personal measure this sort of question goes into word-definition games. Many people seem to insist that a game is "good" if it appeals to many people. This external measure is not very interesting to me, I'm more interested in internal design quality. By this measure it's pretty obvious that Apocalypse World is a clearly written rehash and restatement, while Poison'd pushes the envelope.
Also, I underwrite what Rafu and Graham said about the game text. I guess you could say that it "needs" a second edition, insofar as there's a need for people to be able to play the game easily.
I would totally by an edition of Poison'd that made it as clear how to run Poison'd as the Apocalypse World text makes it clear how to run Apocalypse World. As it is, if I run Poison'd again, I'm going to have to run it more or less like Apocalypse World. I'm not sure how far off the mark that is.
I've read and played Poison'd. It's one of my favorite games. Maybe it is one of my favorite games. I like it more than Apocalypse World, but I don't get to play it enough, because I can't find anyone to play it with me. It's not as accessible initially, which I think is the biggest flaw of the game.
Maybe perversely, I found Poison'd *far* easier to GM than Apocalypse World. Like, to this day, even having read AW like five times, I feel like I still don't get it. Maybe it's just the first session that's hard for me.
Example: I've GMed 2 first sessions of AW, each with a different but overlapping player set. Both times, it felt like a trainwreck. There were some sparks, but *I* felt like it was no fun. I think the players did have fun, but it felt epiphenomenal.
Compare that to the first (and only so far) session of Poison'd I ran: this thing sung. I was referencing the rulebook on the fly because I wasn't familiar enough with the system yet, and we had the same player set, but the thing was a complete blast. After about a half hour, I felt like I could run it all night, no problem.
I agree, by the way, about Poison'd's being heavy on the Christian themes.
I second Daniel. Additionally, Cruel Fortunes always seem very "real" in play. Like, in AW I know when I should Announce Future Badness, but sometimes I do it and the players don't really respond. In Poison'd, I Announce Future Badness in the same way, but then I place down "Urgency: The Storm". Then everyone goes OH SHIT, because they know that I'm not completely in control, and am unlikely to pull punches. Cruel Fortunes create this feeling of a harsh world, where everything is against you. It's an awesome feeling, and I just don't get it from Apocalypse World.
I've run and played Poison'd but only played AW, and that was an earlyish playtest without all the rules.
What I liked about P, that worked better for me than AW, is that the players had more creative control over what happened in the game. I'm not necessarily saying that the rules are responsible for this, I haven't played enough of either to judge this. It might be because of the starting situation in P for example.
And like Graham says, P pushes the characters to explore dark behaviour much more directly, and to consider salvation. You can go this way in AW, I'm sure, but it's not so obvious or directly supported by the rules.
I've found, in AW, that the only real evil, the only evil punished by the system, is betrayal of the other PCs. PCs are just so much more powerful than anything else in the game, that they're the only real danger to each other. There was one time there was a chopper named Hooch who playbook-changed to brainer, right, after finding this haunted, insane car (inspired by Deathproof). He'd always been an evil bastard, enslaving people (including a PC, the first session), shooting his own men, razing small settlements, but after he found that car, he really went down the crazy serial killer rapist route, got too evil for his gang, and playbook-changed to brainer. Shortly after that, he took both the moves "Merciless" and "In-brain puppet strings", which the player realized could combo to a potential 6-harm on one roll. By this point, he was working for the local hardholder-like NPC, Kempf, who had had his food source cut off by a revolutionary Quarantine named Sam (btw, Esoteric, my experience is that the apocalypse world is exactly as harsh as how scarce resources are in it). There was a PC-maestro d' run circus coming to Kempf's town, and Kempf wanted one third of the people in that circus killed and butchered to relieve the food shortage. So, when Boiardi, the maestro d', showed up early to arrange a performance contract, Kempf had Hooch in-brain puppet strings him. When the circus arrived, Hooch and Boiardi went down to the arena that the circus was performing in, to arrange things, but Boiardi managed to lure Hooch into the back of a truck, concealed from Kempf's men, where half the PCs happened to be hanging out, and then everyone just fucking shot Hooch to death. So, I guess what I'm saying is that AW can have evil, damnation, and salvation, but it's all relative to the standards of the other PCs. Salvation is through Hx.
Keep in mind I'm only in the "I've heard things about" group so you're all in a more informed position than I am.
For reference though I never gave Poison'd a chance because of the setting (Pirates don't gel with me nor my group) and because of the set start point (ship, dead captain, turncoat cook, impending justice). I might enjoy that sort of thing from a small one-shotty free thing like "Lady Blackbird" but I want my "big" games to promise a bit more range up front.
Esoteric: re: harshness: I think maybe you shouldn't pull your punches in AW? I mean, there's nothing in the book to suggest that. Yes, you're a fan of the characters, but when the game calls for a hard move, you make that move HARD. Also, sometimes disclaim decision making. Announcing future badness, if they do nothing about it, that's opportunity on a plate, all that stuff.
Adams: Vincent did say the game was about trust, without being about betrayal or some such thing.
Neurook: I haven't played Poison'd yet either, but my understanding is that it's not a "big" game in that sense. One session is probably not enough but three or four is just fine. Lady Blackbird has a similar length really, you can be done in an evening but it can go on for a few sessions, but it won't last beyond that. Blackbird because the goals and keys will dissolve and Poison'd because there's an endgame mechanic that will kick in sooner or later.
David: Sorry, I've been away from the internet for a while. I love AW and Poison'd. I like Poison'd just a wee bit more out of personal preference of the themes and settings, really. I like pirate lore more than I like apocalyptic lore. I think they both do what they set out to do equally well.
I also appreciate games that have very short rule books.
I read Poison'd, liked it, studied it and even translated it (remember ^_-). I haven't played it yet but it is the first on my list if I ever come back in a country where I can roleplay.
I really like it's conciseness. I find it easier and faster to grasp than DoG for example. I don't know how the rules as laid in the booklet articulate in actual play. I yearn to konw it.
I also like the roughness of it and the impression of drinking directly at the fountain of your creativity. I really learn a lot in that book.
I also "heard stuff", but only after reading it. I don't like most of horror fiction or containing pointless brutality. I hate when players perform violence "for fun" in a game where it is not the point. Most of the time it breaks the social contract. However I see Poison'd as a game that make a strong statement about brutality (including sexual one) and therefore where violence can be performed or avoided on purpose. Therefore I expect to like it in play.
I haven't played AW yet, but in the three games I've GM'd, Poison'd managed to give me two unprecedentedly cool moments.
1) "Do you fight back or endure duress?" Vincent and someone else had said that those moments were cool - but when you actually play the game and see the escalating brutality, and a player WILLINGLY submitting to something awful (branding an eye with an iron, rape), is a blood-chillingly powerful moment.
2) Flashbacks. Once I realised they aren't just brief moments into what the character can do, 3:16 like, but are actually one of the things that make this game Reservoir Dogs on a boat: they move the narrative to several different timeframes. The player play the present *and* the past in the same session, which is wicked cool.