Belly of the Beast Meta Tasks

I had a section in Hunt the Wicked I had tentatively called Session Tasks. These were Tasks on a larger scale and scope than a typical scene or Long Task, and I have fought with them through playtesting and rewrites over the last year or so. In short, Josh found them to be lacking in polish and needing a rewrite – and after careful consideration I decided to cut them from the final version of the game.

That leads me to their next iteration – Meta Tasks. As I continue to work on and refine Belly of the Beast, I’d like to introduce these Meta Tasks and have them playtested through the remaining of the pre-launch beta. Essentially, they work like this:

A Meta Task is an overarching Task that connects and combines the characters’ narrative actions contained within Scenes, as well as the overall narrative and impact from NPCs and factions within the setting. The GM would create and establish these Meta Tasks the same as a regular Task – with a Difficulty, Severity, and Threshold, as well as establish the nature of their complications, consequences, and ramifications of their complete failure.

Additionally, each Meta Task would have a count-down or “if, then” type of structure. This would create some pressure on the characters, and give the GM a pre-determined outline to guide and funnel the campaign’s narrative.

For a simple example, imagine a Meta Task called War of the Valley. In this, there are a number of factions (including the PCs’ party) that have a vested interest in the tide of the war. The characters are opposed to the Reavers, who are trying to destroy several strongholds in the valley and take over the territory as their own.

The GM gives the War (the Meta Task) a Difficulty 3 / Severity 4 / Threshold 1. There would be a number of major Scenes (battles, raids, that sort of thing) that could have a maximum of 2 success dealt to the Task. If they had a complete victory in one of these Scenes, their 2 success would be subtracted by 1 from the Threshold, and then lower the existing Difficulty to 2.

If the party instead had a partial victory and only dealt 1 success, the Threshold would prevent any Difficulty being lowered and the War / Meta Task would still be ongoing. This Threshold – which represents the tactical skill of their commander – could be removed if the commander was assassinated or captured, and future successes would no longer be subtracted by its Threshold.

The bit that I’m having some trouble wrapping my head around is how Severity would come into play – and what (mechanically) that would mean for the characters. I’d essentially have to create a whole new “meta Severity” and “meta Consequences” scale that would impact the setting and narrative as a whole, rather than simply directly impacting the characters. All of my attempts thus far have been less than satisfactory.

Stay tuned for more as I continue to playtest and tweak the rules.

Belly of the Beast Beta Complete

Belly of the Beast has had several successful playtest campaigns and a multitude of one-shots. Over the last few months I’ve written an additional 10k words, bringing the manuscript‘s total to just shy of 30k.

I intend to have BotB as one of my shortest Ethos Engine games in terms of word count. This sort of naturally evolved for three reasons:

  1. I actually prefer shorter games (both reading and writing)
  2. I’ve gotten better at explaining the Ethos Engine
  3. BotB is more focused than VoH or HtW

An added benefit of a smaller page count is that I can shift some of the expense from editing and layout into artwork – something that I feel has been a bit lacking in other EE games. I plan to heavily lean on Jeff Brown’s amazing setpieces to convey the theme and tone of the game, rather than zooming in on characters as I have in previous games.

Design additions

Since the original concept of BotB and its alpha, I’ve added a few more concrete rules and examples – chiefly rules around Hazards (essentially a combination between enemies and Tasks), and a slew of Random Tables for things like unique cultural traits, potential sources of scarcity, interesting things one can find in a haul, and similar GM-tools.

I’ve added in a few optional rules for handling Instinct Dice limits. One of the variants simply caps the number you can have in your pool at any point (encouraging players to spend them more frequently) and the other is that the characters automatically succumb to one of their Instincts once they hit their limit. This sort of nods to VoH’s stain mechanics, although is more forgiving.

The point of these is to drive action forward and to prevent characters from hoarding their Id – we want them to spend them and have a low quantity so that they go out and do more stuff in order to get more of them. That feedback loop is important, and often occurs naturally in play. The variants are there for groups and GMs that want to really highlight or exaggerate that loop, and to discourage over-cautiousness.

I’ve toyed with the idea of adding in complete rules for Factions and building strongholds, however I think that it kind of breaks with the theme. Characters are scavengers, they’re meant to exist in the narrow, grubby spaces between the rest of the Swallowed Society. And while factions can certainly play an impact (and have featured prominently in VoH and HtW) they aren’t directly influencing the actions or behavior of the characters in any particular way.

The nature of building a stronghold and leaving a permanent mark on the Belly kind of conflicts with the grim reality that the characters face – their lives are transient, their destinies are bleak, anything that they build now is likely to be ground down to muck in the next century. That kind of fatalism is interesting to me, and what drives the sort of recklessness I see in a lot of the players (and I believe would naturally exist in the Swallowed). I’d hate to input something that removed that emergent phenomenon.

Stay tuned and check out the draft here.