Friday, 4 April 2014

The Quiet Year - post-apocalyptic community-driven story telling

"We're on the road to nowhere..."

I recently stumbled across a rather intriguing - albeit over-priced - game called The Quiet Year. It is the creation of Avery Mcdaldno at Buried Without Ceremony, although you can still find a copy of it at Leisure Games if you live in the UK. I've been reading at bit of Robin Laws' Hillfolk recently, a game I'd still like to run at some point (although I'm currently prepping for an upcoming Deadlands Noir mini-campaign), and I realise that Hillfolk, as a story-telling game, may require quite a big jump for people who might have been used to traditional RPGs where the GM exercises a large degree of control over the setting and the plot.

I touched on this aspect of player-driven narrative a little when I ran Cold City and later Hot War , but in both cases I think we did not really get sufficiently under the skin of these games. These settings were, frankly, awesome, but we tended to play them as if we were playing Call of Cthulhu. More recently, I've been experimenting with adventure cards in Savage Worlds, which I like because of the way they introduce more of an element of plot control for the players. I felt these worked really well in a recent pulp game I ran, andI plan to employ them again when I run Deadlands Noir.

The Quiet Year - not just about one man and his dog!


Which brings me to The Quiet Year. TQY, as I shall refer to it, is not an RPG but nor is it a card game. It uses a post-apocalyptic setting, and players work together using a deck of cards and a map, to chronicle the events surrounding a struggling community of 60-80 human beings trying to survive after an apocalypse. There is no GM. Players work together to create the environment and the surroundings of their community. The map is also used to record events and revelations in the course of the game.

The 'quiet year' of the title is divided up into four seasons: each suit of cards represents one season, with play beginning in spring. Players take it in turns to draw cards which begin to build the setting and the story, introducing characters and situations. There is minimal preparation time required, and the whole game is very rules light, focusing much more on the narrative. There is no pre-written plot, it is very much driven by the players and the cards. I can see how you could do something very similar for colonists on a new world, as in the TV series Outlanders.

Two other mechanics are used apart from the cards: tokens are used to track tensions within the community, and dice are used to track the progress of any projects the community attempts (each project - e.g. digging a well - can take between 1-6 weeks to complete).

You don't play just one character in TQY - you can play several. Characters emerge in the course of the story, and their fate can be determined by more than one player. The game is community-driven, not character driven. In Hillfolk you still have one character to manager, in TQY you oversee the entire community of survivors.

TQY is definitely not Mad Max. It feels more like Jericho (the TV series) or The Road meets The Village. I would not say it is NOT depressing, it is a post-apocalyptic game after all, but whether you have biker gangs in it - or not - is down to the players. One of its more appealing aspects for me is that you can play TQY, from start to finish, in one evening. It does not require a huge amount of time allotted to it over several sessions, and this I like. It IS expensive for what you get, at least in the UK, and here it may fall down. I'm also not sufficiently clear on whether the community should suffer penalties for higher levels of intra-community tension - there doesn't seem to be one. Perhaps the community fragments once you run out of tension tokens? One to consider.

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