Thanks to The Gauntlet’s community, I now know all my playbooks work and are fun. And I have a ton of confidence about this game’s future.
Originally shared by Robert Bohl
Everyone’s a Hardholder
I just finished a session of Demihumans at the first Gauntlet NYC minicon (an extension of the fandom for the RPG podcast, The Gauntlet). After a lovely morning session of Meguey Baker’s Psi*Run, I wound up getting three players for my character and world creation and play session, Rob Abrazado, Michael, and Dylan Ross.
Rob played Vinculus the Gnome, Michael played Mosi the Halfling, and Dylan played Ragnar the Orc. They’re living in the capital of a human nation called Varkesh, in its capital city (also called Varkesh). This is a city that, during the eons of genocidal war between the orcs and humans, passed ownership and control of it back and forth between them. Ultimately, both sides arrived at a power-sharing agreement, splitting the city in half between Varkesh and its orcish name, “Vet Su’ok.” Over time, Vet Su’ok got smaller and smaller, until it’s now a ghetto of 200-300 demihumans (mostly halflings and orcs) in a tiny, narrow enclave with the same name.
Varkesh is nominally an aristocracy, but it’s so old and developed that the bureaucracy has great sway both over who wins succession, and what they’re capable of achieving while crowned. Its laws and rules are Byzantine and stringently-adhered-to. This has bled into Vet Su’ok, which also has a lot of laws and rules, and is ruled by an oligarchical council of important people, families, and organizations.
Anyway, in the characters’ Gnosis questions, we learned that Mosi the Halfling’s cousin (Reed) and Ragnar the Orc got into a scuffle with Garrald Andson, a human “adventurer” and aristocrat. He’d been stealing magical baubles from the shops, and they stopped him, kicked his ass, and stole what he’d been stealing for themselves.
Play began with Ragnar’s sister Tarkva coming to him while he did constabulary duty on horseback, to let him know Garrald was back, with a host of retainers and hirelings in tow. He’d been accused of assault and attempted murder against Reed the Halflng, Mosi’s cousin. Reed was missing and Garrald and his people had been picked up by the constables and were sitting in stocks with a growing crowd around them. Tarkva delivered a jury summons, calling on Ragnar and two others to investigate the crime and pass judgment. As he opened the summons, he (failing a persevere under duress roll) feels the weight of its magic fall on him. He’ll find no rest until he discharges his duty as a juror.
Around the same time, Vinculus the Gnome was puttering around his office when Ainway (an elvish child who was apprenticing to learn strange magic from the gnome) delivered the jury summons. He also failed his roll, and decided to head down to the stocks with his apprentice in tow.
For her part, Mosi is informed by Ash, her brother and chief rival to take over the family when the current leader passes control off. He tells her the same story about Reed getting assaulted and maybe killed, and she heads to the militia’s stables, where the humans were being held.
Garrald is a beautiful, rich, and famous man who has brought an adventuring party with him to Vet Su’ok (a dimwitted giant of a man, a woman who only whispered and was encased in black leather, etc.) and they’re all in the stocks, too. The citizens of the enclave are loving it, throwing things at them and jeering. The story about the attempted murder has spread and people are mad.
For a while, Mosi is able to dodge the constable that’s trying to deliver her the jury summons, until Ragnar takes it from her and gives it to Mosi, who decides to stop dodging the inevitable. When she opens the summons though, she gets a partial success at persevering through duress, and learns that she may, one time, ignore her duties and take an act jurors are not permitted.
Meanwhile, the crowd wants blood, and Garrald is trying to antagonize his captors into brutalizing him or letting him go so he can kill them. He’s being sneering and racist when people try to talk to him, so Ragnar bites off the tip of his nose and scares him into more respect, and into stopping trying to get free. They interrogate the more-pliant guy and his servants. His story winds up being that he was coming into the enclave to buy a potion (his friends teasingly said it was to fix his limp dick), and got assaulted in an alley by Reed and Ash.
The Company/jury decides they need to find out what Ash’s story is and where Reed is. They get Ash to bring them to the crime scene, and it’s quickly clear that he’s lying to them and making up details of his story on the fly. Their investigations on what details Ash can come up with don’t fit his story. They haul him back toward Garrald to question him more and make his accuser face him. On the way, just before they arrive, Ash gives Ragnar, who’s dragging him, a vicious, poisoned cut to the leg, then the gut. He twists away and disappears into the alleyways.
They then interrogate Gerrald again. His wound is identical to the wounds Ash gave Ragnar, and his story’s details hold together better than Ash’s. The Company starts trying to figure out how to let the falsely-imprisoned human nobleman free without causing a riot or letting him come back at them after this, even angrier. They get him to agree to drop everything if they get the guys who framed them. Garrald agrees, but no one believes it, and the crowd is furious that it looks like the jury is trying to reason with the criminal.
So they go out looking for the halflings, use the enclave’s gold from the start of session move to pay a reward for information on them, and find them trying to escape via a gnomish dirigible that’s attached to a leaning building, keeping it from collapsing. Vinculus casts an illusion of Ragnar, up on the dirigible, waiting for them, which chases them down and out the front door into the waiting Company’s arms. The halflings are brought to justice, and Garrald and his people are released under cover of night.
It’s only a one shot, so that’s where it ends, but we had a ton of lovely dangling threads. Garrald’s revenge and the backlash from Vet Su’ok’s citizens over freeing a terrible, violent man.
This game went great. I’m not sure why I’m surprised that a light hack of Apocalypse World 2E was so smooth and easy, but I am.
The key exciting revelation for me was learning that this is a game where everyone is the Hardholder. Mosi was trying to reason with her family, who could only see as far as revenge and rage when it hit me. Not only are the Hardholder’s two moves broken out and available to everyone, but everyone cares about keeping the enclave alive and not spinning out of control. Maybe I think talking is the way to get there, and you think biting off someone’s nose is, but neither of us is a Battlebabe-like agent of directionless chaos.
I’m so happy this game is humming.