Image from 1Zoom.me

In the last Moves Snowball post about the first tale, Nob Moreland’s halfling family managed to push the guard out of their home and get Shalan the Elf to safety. After Bloor the Troll intimidates Severn, the newest member of this guard polycule unit—terrifying him into letting free Shalan (as well as Nob’s daughter Lily)—the Company has a brief (technically out-of-character) conference and decides that the unit would likely be rapidly heading to the spring again (maybe not even getting the writ they need to search the Moreland home), so they decide to beat them there.

I decide that the guards have to at least plan what their next step is, whereas the Company’s choices were quite clear and obvious. So they get there before the humans. Since there’s no resistance at this point, and Bloor alone is strong enough to pull out the bricks, that happens without a roll. But they do come in the end and I get to use the battle moves I wrote for the first time. (I say “I wrote,” but they’re pretty heavily plagiarized from Apocalypse World.)

Shalan starts out the fight wanting to cover his companions with a bow. I suggest that the move counterstrike for an ally pertains, since he’s looking out for enemy attacks on Bloor, likely to be the main fighter for their side.

Counterstrike for an ally (roll+Serene)

When you focus yourself on counterstriking someone who attacks an ally in battle, roll+Serene. Should anyone seek to strike or impede your ward, on a hit, you inflict harm as established on the aggressor and alert your comrade. On a 10+, choose 1:
— You strike swiftly, before the enemy can act.
— You inflict grievous harm (+1harm).
On a miss, you can alert your comrade, but that is all.

This isn’t rolled now, but instead, when the selected ally is attacked. We will come back to it later.

Becca said Bloor wanted to hurl a boulder at a guard when they show up. Shalan has described watching out for the humans to arrive, so I judge that Bloor can ambush someone when they get to the spring.

Ambush someone

When you savage someone unsuspecting or helpless, you need not roll. Ask the Demiurge if your deed could miscarry. If it could, treat it as coercion through violence with a 10+ result, but you make the choice for the victim whether to allow him the chance to bend to and obey, or if you don’t, and inflict harm as established (p. XX). If what you’re trying couldn’t fail, you simply inflict harm as established.

Bloor is hurling a boulder, so that could miscarry. That means Bloor gets the equivalent of a 10+. She chooses the “force your hand” option, since the other option was “bend to and obey,” but the surprise attack didn’t give an opportunity to obey anything. A boulder is established in the Troll playbook as 4-harm, 5 with the “grievous harm.” I decide that the boulder falls on Severn (the only one we’ve met who it’s possible to have any sympathy for, since he didn’t attack a child when given the chance) following my principal, make violence ugly:

Make violence ugly

While violence is a likely outcome of the game, violence is not glorious, beautiful, or clean. Make it unheroic. Unglamorous. This doesn’t mean gory, though it doesn’t not mean gory. One could depict glorious and beautiful gore, but that’s not this game. Instead, if gore is to your taste, or you depict ugly, ignoble gore.

Violence isn’t easy. Violence leaves a trail. Violence changes people who commit it. The victims of violence—however justified the perpetrators were—have people who love them, children who will go without parents, friends who will want revenge, and so on. Even the witnesses to violence are hurt by it.

You don’t knock people out with a tap to the head and have them wake up after a nap; that’s traumatic brain injury. Choking someone to death takes a long time, and he’s screaming and spitting and scratching for the long minutes until you end him. If a member of the Company is grabbing someone by the arm to make him comply, she will feel her victim’s frail wristbones grinding together, see the piteous expression, hear the whimpering shame as he breaks.

There’s a lot pushing you toward violence in this game. Nearly every playbook gets weapons, there’s even a spirit-of-jovial-violence playbook. Violence is coming; prioritize verisimilitude in your descriptions of it. Make sure it’s not something to be proud of, but a grim necessity, a pleasure for the cruel, a lashing out by the desperate who can see no other hope.

Severn can have at best 2-armor. Most Demiurge characters should die with 1-harm, at most 2. So he’s gone. I describe him being turned into a red paste by the boulder, and the horror-stricken cries from his lovers.

Nob wants to drive them back now. Since the Company had had the opportunity to set up for the attack, I decide the Halfling would roll a child of the main battle move, take an objective. This one is for maintain control over something you hold (the name of the move at the time of play; it’s now called maintain control, and it’s what I pasted below):

Maintain control (Roll+Brutish)

To maintain control over something you hold, calculate harm exchanged. Roll+Brutish and, on a 10+, choose 3. On a 7-9, choose 2. On a miss, choose 1:
Your strike is grievously wounding (+1harm).
You suffer only a glancing blow (-1harm).
You keep secure hold of the objective.
You terrify, flummox, or overawe your victim.

Judd rolls a 7-9 and chooses to keep secure hold and be grievously wounding. Nob is using his sheriff’s crossbow (2-harm) and I choose for his attack to reach Yevgeny, Commander Jin’s second, who is using a bow (2-harm). Yevgeny does 2-harm, -1 for Nob’s armor, so 1-harm. Nob does 3-harm (+1 for grievous), Yevgeny’s armor takes off 1, but that’s enough left to kill him.

Making violence ugly, I have Jin let out an unearthly howl of rage and misery, then she starts talking in a strange language and gesturing wildly and rhythmically. As she does so, the rock around the spring starts to “heal” the fissure. At this point, I decide to let Shalan’s counterstrike for an ally move fire. Tom rolls for Shalan, but gets a very low roll, and is thus only able to warn Bloor.

Bloor immediately jumps into the crack and pushes Bloor’s black-fungal substance back against the rock, hard, calling on it to eat away and flake the stone as might happen in a dwelling. Bloor is trying to get control over the spring’s hole, so I deem it’s take an objective, the mother-move for battle moves.

Take an objective (Roll+Brutish)

To take an objective, calculate harm exchanged. Roll+Brutish and, on a 10+, choose 3. On a 7-9, choose 2. On a miss, choose 1:
Your strike is grievously wounding (+1harm).
You suffer only a glancing blow (-1harm).
You take secure hold of the objective.
You terrify, flummox, or overawe your victim.

Becca rolls a 7-9, so she chooses to take secure hold and terrify her enemies. Bloor takes 3-harm more as the rock tries to close in on Bloor, but succeeds in breaking the magic, and the enemies. They go running.

I point out to the Company that if the unit gets back to the authorities, the enclave’s flower of human antipathy is likely to lose one of its six petals, as humans in the city learn of the “murders” committed by demihumans. And Shalan is intent on that not happening, so he first tries to pin them down as they’re fleeing. When you’re hunting people, you use:

Stalking prey (Roll+Serene)

When you are stalking a person like prey, roll+Serene and, on a hit, you catch him. On a 10+, the battleground is of your choosing; describe it. On a 7-9, he has chosen the battlefield; the prey’s player describes it. On a miss, he has slipped your grasp.

Shalan rolls well enough to choose the battleground, so in order to do so, he decides to consult his knowledge of the lay of the land with:

Ranger’s knowing (Roll+Canny)

When you take the time to examine a natural feature (a dell, a waterway, a monumental boulder, etc.), roll+Canny and on a hit, you can ask the Demiurge questions. On a 10+, ask 3. On a 7-9, ask 1:
— Who was the last person here before me?
— What processes—natural or otherwise—birthed this place?
— What strong emotions have been most recently felt here?
— What words have been said most recently here?
— What has been done recently in this place, or to it?
— What is wrong with this place, and how can I fix it?
On a miss, the Demiurge may turn your deafness to nature against you, now or in time.

Unfortunately, Tom blows this roll. This may have been the one where he got snake eyes. So I decided that, in chatting with the trees, he inadvertently allows Jin’s people to overhear and gives them a way to get free. Oh shit! Is the enclave in trouble?

Possibly, but not necessarily. You see, Nob knows people in the enclave, and he decides to head back as quickly as possible and bring those connections to bear to save their home.

Neighborhood connections (Roll+Resplendent)

When you call in favors or ask for help from the people you know in the enclave, roll+Resplendent. Then, on a 10+, choose 2. On a 7-9, choose 1, but it will cost you dearly if you do:
— Obtain evidence that supports a scheme of blackmail
— Have someone cowed by threats or delivered physical insult
— Have requisite proofs delivered to the authorities
— Find where someone is
— Turn up a precious or forbidden thing

On a miss, the Demiurge may have your connections turn against you, now or in time.

Judd rolls great on this, 10+ and uses it to get evidence that shows that Ade hired the guard unit to brick up the spring so he could sell the enclave water, then Nob has that proof sent to him with a threat that it will come out if he ever touches the spring again. A really victorious end to a great session.

A small quibble: We were really rushing at the end here, so I completely blew it on asking for fictional circumstances around the neighborhood connections move. I need to ask more questions and make sure to dig into the fiction in future tales, when we don’t have as much of a time limit.

That future is this Sunday! The group gets back together, joined by my brother, Jay, who’s playing the Orc. This orc has seen visions that humanity will turn on itself, and is doing his best to make sure comes true.

Do you want to playtest Demihumans?

You can! Download the basic kit, and if you reach out to me I can hook you up with the draft text.

(The rules text above is from the current draft of the rules at time of writing and could change.)