Mortal Coil & realizing Situation is king
Last night, Kat, Michele & I went to Brennan’s. We met his friends Jason, Bill & Sandy (who’d I’d met at conventions years ago). The six of us and Brennan’s wife Krista did a playtest of Brennan’s new game, Mortal Coil. It went very, very well and I hope we get to play another session.
Mortal Coil is kinda like The Shadows of Yesterday in being a “Dream Team” of mechanics pulled from other games and retooled for this one. Brennan’s pulled some of the best stuff from Universalis, Nobilis, and PrimeTime Adventures, along with a dash of TSoY, BW, and Sorcerer, and fused them into something new & cool.
The game starts with the group creating a Setting Document. The only opening requirement is that it must be about magic. The process is very similar to the brainstorming parts of PTA. We talked about some possibilities. Sandy mentioned sorcerous colleges, but no one else was particularly moved. Kat talked about Faerie courts with the idea that they’ve taken on new forms in the New World, although they’re as Faerie as ever. Sandy suggested that perhaps there is just as much magic in the world now as there had ever been. People liked this idea, and talk continued about how a person might need Faerie blood to work magic. Talk drifted to the interaction of magic and technology and how Faerie shouldn’t be put off by guns & cell phones. Enthusiasm had no real focus and so was beginning to ebb into niggling about setting minutae.
Sensing this, Brennan suggested we move to making characters, starting with a character concept. A great hush fell over the table. After a few minutes of headscratching, Sandy said he was thinking about a mortal granted 3 gifts by the Fae. Bill thought he’d like to play a hobgoblin. I’d been kinda hanging back until now, but I said “I was thinking of either Arthur reborn or Lancelot reborn.” Kat said “Lancelot’s no fun without Guinevere. I’ll play her. but this time, *she’s* got Excalibur.” The enthusiasm took an up-ramp. We now had a Situation to hang our characters on.
Michele said she was thinking about a Gatekeeper–sort of a patron spirit of doorways. Jason had showed up late, and he wanted to be a vicious faerie bound in service to Sandy’s character. With the Arthurian idea on the table, people had a goal, that pulled things into shape. Sandy’s gifted mortal became the new Merlin. Krista had gotten home late, but she played Senator Arthur King.
A few words about the system. Characters are mechanically defined by a variable number of Passions (Loves, Hates, Fears, and/or Duties); 4 fixed Capabilities (essentially Attributes) and a variable number of Aptitudes (skill sets/professions/Sorcerer-esque Covers). In order to get magical Aptitudes, you need to pay a magic token to create it in the game world. Throughout the game, you can pay magic tokens to establish facts about how magic works. Rather Universalis-like. For conflict resolution, we set our Stakes and bid Action tokens for attacks and defenses. Think Burning Wheel crossed with Nobilis. There are also Power Tokens that get handed out like Fan Mail in PTA. And when your Passions are firing, you can add in Passion tokens to your bid, like Spiritual Attributes in The Riddle of Steel.
Anyway, we played through some great scenes, including Senator Arthur King at this big fundraising gala, preparing to propose to Gwen Newlot, a NYC detective. Lancelot du Lac has just arrived fresh from Fae (and indebted to Michele’s gatekeeper) to deliver Excalibur’s scabbard to his Queen. Just as Arthur is a bout to pop the question, Lancelot drops to one knee before Gwen declaring his eternal devotion and offering up the holster to the Excalibur pistol that she’s recently been given.
We realized that for Arthur and Lancelot to bond while both in love with Gwen, we needed some action. Thus, a fanatic disguised as a waiter tried to assassinate the Senator. Lancelot swiftly disarmed him, and the stage was set for male bonding.
The fanatic was meant to be a throw-away character, but Michele spent a Power token to take some directorial control, and specify that her character, who has “Hates Arthur” as a Passion, was the one who sent the assassin. I think this was the first time she named her character: Morgue (nickname due to her cover as police photographer, and a play on Morgan le Fay). The Arthurian thing kept pulling everything together. Plus, the adversarial stance gave Sandy’s Merlin, and his two unhappily-bound servant/thugs, Jason’s Mr. Black and Bill’s Mr. Pink, a great deal to play off of.
There was a great deal more, including a serial killer that cuts people’s eyes out, and double-crosses among the goon squad. I welcome the others to fill in the blanks.
I’m very impressed with Mortal Coil. I’m liking the semi-formalized brainstorming sessions. They’re great for generating excitement and buy-in. But nothing beats Situation to draw people’s imaginations together.
NOTE: Also posted this to the Forge.
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