Sunday 31 March 2024

Awful Lights Mission Team Playbooks

Here's an updated version of The Awful Lights, now with a set of playbooks for the mission team members. There are five:

A Survivor - this playbook is meant to represent all survivors without a specialty. They're starting characters for some players in larger groups, and this playbook is a replacement character option if any of the specialists gets killed in the field.

The survivor's advancement options are all about expressing their reaction to the situation they're, whether the dangers of the field or the rest of the mission team. Survivors advance quickly, and on their fourth advancement can pick a specialist playbook as a new path. (In this respect they're like the non-specialist Soldier playbooks in Band of Blades.)

The Scout is the mission team's pathfinder and forward observer. They've lived outside of camp longer than anyone else, and have a knack for finding ways into difficult-to-approach sites.

The Theorist thinks they know what's really going on—at least, that's what they keep telling everybody. Their unlikely plan saves the day, unless it gets everyone killed first.

The Hunter is the team's most skilled shot. You can trust them to get the group out of a tight spot, as long as they're actually there when you need them.

The Shepherd keeps their eye on the group as a whole—somebody has to. When things go wrong (and they're going to go wrong) who will be there to hold it back together? The Shepherd, that's who.

* * *

As well as mission character playbooks, I've also added a set of so-called missing time specials. Once the characters are unfortunate (or fortunate!) enough to run into the Lights, they start accumulating missing time, a phenomenon that distorts causality.

The missing time specials reflect this: characters that experience missing time can select them as advancement options. They're powerful, but all carry a significant cost to use them. Once you max out your missing time, you're never seen again.

Tuesday 19 March 2024

The Awful Lights

This past weekend I was at Breakout Con, running The Awful Lights. This is an alpha edition of a wilderness/zombie survival paramilitary RPG, heavily inspired by Band of Blades by John LeBouef-Little and Stras Acimovic.

In the Awful Lights, it's eight or ten years after a zombie infection wiped the world away. Now, only scattered wilderness bands remain, living off the land as best they can. Life in the silent world is peaceful but difficult. Injuries, malnutrition, and chance encounters with the dead are slowly whittling down the few that remain. Most have made their peace with the idea that this may be the last generation of people.

One day, the camp radio crackles to life. An organization calling itself the Edmonton-Nevada Alliance says it has a plan, but it needs help.

Mechanically, this is most closely inspired by The Regiment ('modern' paramilitary PbtA) and Band of Blades (where I lifted the idea for the player-facing campaign roles). It also has my turn-taking mechanic that now seems to be really humming along nicely for the action sequences.

Tonally, I'm inspired by the frantic terror of zombie media like Black Summer and 28 Days Later, but that is contrasted with my fascination with what humanity's spiritual relationship would be with an empty world. What would it feel like to be the last people? What would you come to believe, or hope for? In the silence after society is gone, the unknown can take a big step closer. For this reason, there's also a dash of the strangeness of Lost, or Communion.

This is a very early version; it has four campaign role playbooks and a single mission character ('the survivor'). It works okay with fewer players, but taking more than one campaign role right off the bat is a bit of a cognitive lump to swallow. I do plan to add more mission playbooks!