More Acts of Evil: we noticed yesterday that we’d been reading the rules wrong in a minor matter. The thing is, the small detail in question happens to be a reward cycle linchpin, so player intent has been running a bit wrong in places. This repudiates a part of my earlier analysis, so I better write down some corrections for my notes…
The issue itself
The rules on Soul’s Desire are written in a bit of a complex manner in the ashcan version of Acts of Evil. I’m not usually prone to misreading rules, but in this case the set of rules on what happens after you declare a Soul’s Desire were never queried in great detail by the group, as those rules are not actually needed before you declare Soul’s Desire. We knew that you’d set an Agency stat for the NPC in question and we knew that the NPC would in the future have a chance to resolve either his Agency or his Soul’s Desire when confronted by occultists. What we didn’t know was that setting Soul’s Desire actually greatly reduces the NPC’s strength in conflict! This is important, because it affects the reasons for why and when a player might wish to declare Soul’s Desire. As it’s an implied effect not really explained, and it’s perpendicular to the stated thematic rationale for the Soul’s Desire rules, we missed it altogether in the first five sessions. Only when Sipi decided to try the Soul’s Desire rules due to academic curiousity did we find out how the system really works.
Here’s how the rules go: an occultist player may, at his discretion, reveal a Soul’s Desire for a non-occultist NPC. This is an overriding concern in the NPC’s life that will, by the virtue of being stated aloud, be kept around for thematic tension until resolved in some manner. In our game, when he went to harass his pet Victim John Knitzias, Sipi decided that enough was enough and gave Knitzias the Soul’s Desire “to return to his family” (“Will he return to his family?”, to use Paul’s question formula). Knitzias had abandoned his wife and young son to escape the occultist sir Roger and to draw his ire away from his loved ones. By stating the Soul’s Desire we defined that this was a key matter to Knitzias’s role in the game, and it would potentially figure in all of his involvement in the story from then on.
So far so good. However, the interesting part comes now: when a Soul’s Desire is defined, the player also sets an Agency score for the NPC, depicting the degree of his confrontation with the aims of the occultists. A NPC with a low Agency score is rather likely to succeed in fulfilling his Soul’s Desire and being removed from the game in that manner; a NPC with a high Agency is likely to succeed in foiling the occultist PC in a serious manner, being removed from the game in the process and not ever answering his Soul’s Desire. So the Agency score is a choice between two kinds of protagonism for the NPC. A player might well desire to set Agency mid-way, so as to give the NPC more staying power in the game.
Anyway, here’s the part we’d missed: when a NPC with Soul’s Desire is engaged in conflict with a PC, the resisting dice pool is split into two separate pools, one the size of the Agency score and one with the rest of the dice. These are rolled completely separately: even if the two pools together had enough successes to overcome the occultist, the occultist only needs to win each pool separately to win each conflict. So effectively speaking, setting an Agency score reduces a NPC’s strength by as much as half. This is very, very significant for our game, as all players have or have had characters who were in great difficulty to proceed in the game; by setting Soul’s Desires left and right they could have made some leeway, as a NPC with a split pool is much easier to triumph over.
The way I (and others when they read the rules on Soul’s Desire) had interpreted the rules was that the two pools of Agency dice and non-Agency dice would still be added together after the roll to figure out a “normal” victory for the NPC, but apparently this is not the case. The rules on page 44 read that “If the count of Lebesgue primes in the occultist player’s roll exceeds the count of Lebesgue primes rolled on the Agency dice, and also exceeds the count of Lebesgue primes rolled on the non-Agency dice, the result is a success for the occultist as per usual.” I think my earlier reading of this sentence had been that the dice would be compared “as usual”, with the NPC having a good chance to win a conflict without either putting the occultist into Iniquity or fulfilling his Soul’s Desire; reading that sentence now I’m inclined to think that it means what it says: if the occultist triumphs over both separate pools, he wins, regardless of anything else. NPCs with Soul’s Desire cannot win a conflict without being removed from the game in any way. (That latter condition perhaps is the cause for my earlier misreading: it’s easy to assume that Paul’d want a NPC with Soul’s Desire to be able to remain in the game for a bit, even if the game works better with the new interpretation.)
Anyway, the new rule quickly allowed Sipi’s occultist, sir Roger, to revel in his grand plan of forcing Knitzias to rewrite his poem collection into an occult handbook for the future sir Roger. (Roger’d seen the future, he knew that he would forget most of his occult lore at some point, upon which he’d find Knitzias’s book valuable.) Sipi got several points of Power out of the interaction, which was rather valuable for him, considering that sir Roger has a Resistance of 5 and has great difficulty to succeed in anything. In the end Knitzias however succeeded with his non-Agency dice (he only had Agency at 2) in resisting the raving occultist madman. Knitzias threw himself off the cliffs of Dover in a rather dramatic scene, ruining his book manuscript and sir Roger’s plans to drag him kicking and screaming to Avalon. Sir Roger thought that Knitzias was dead now, which enabled the unfortunate guy to go back home to his family. They escaped to Norway and live happily ever after, the end. Very cathartic all around.
Now that we have this new interpretation of the Soul’s Desire rules it’s all the more likely that we’ll be seeing more Soul’s Desires in play. It’s still not something that players will be doing willingly, I think, but when characters get in a bad shape I can well imagine seeing it happening for the permanent low-resistance source of Power an agencied NPC offers. Of course there’s a slight danger of getting broken into Iniquity, but that’s life. It will be interesting to see when and why players set Soul’s Desire now that there is a mechanical reward for doing so. In the case of John Knitzias the Soul’s Desire was long overdue, but I could imagine other characters getting one too soon, too.
The session itself
At the beginning of the session Aleksi told us that he wanted to switch characters due to the high Resistance of his character. I got the impression that part of the reason was also that Aleksi had perhaps driven his character into a degree of unplayability with his rather… dramatic fetishes, and now he’d lost his interest in playing the chaotic mass of snakes his character had become. I’ll be writing an eulogy for Aleksi’s street rat named Fredric akin to how I did with Tero’s former character Ee in an earlier post. Not now, though, as this post has grown long enough already.
Other than that our session was a bit short on significant rules events, partially because we had a small indie games tupperware event before the session and that cut into the time we had to play. On the positive side, we got to meet a new roleplayer in Iisalmi, one Mikko Koljonen who’d moved to the area from Oulu. Mikko might join our Acts of Evil campaign next time, we’ll see how it works to include a new player in the middle of the run. It seems to me that this shouldn’t be any kind of a problem, but we’ll see.
One notable thing was that all six scenes we did in the sixth session were Power-collection scenes. It seems that the players are approaching the game much more carefully than at the beginning, spending more time in collecting Power. More efficient, too; now the players manage to garner several points per scene most of the time. We will see what comes of this.