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A crudely drawn digital map of a fantastical archipelago. There are 6 major regions each drawn in a different colour. Small areas on each are circled in a different colour to represent a settlement in that area, with a short list of resources next to it. Light grey lines are routes that connect the settlements to other places on the map.

Play Report: A New Hack of The Quiet Year

Playtest 1, March 2023

A New Hack

This past week I subjected one of my long time off-and-on-again play groups to a playtest of a feverishly written hack of the legendary The Quiet Year by Avery Alder. I’ve always had a great time with TQY and it’s one of the few RPGs I’ve gotten to play with my aunties—a rare gateway into my impenetrable interests. I’ve often wondered why it hasn’t been hacked to hell by now. I’ve had a few hack ideas in the back of my head for a while but it wasn’t until a couple weeks ago that I decided I needed to make one NOW.

In preparation for a campaign game with this group I thought it would be good to do some collaborative worldbuilding. Recently I finished playing Final Fantasy Type-0 HD (which deserves its own review, oh boy), and I found myself reminded of my interest in roleplaying in a world with complex international politics. There’s something titillating about viewing the world as an individual constantly feeling the ripples of events occurring on the “world stage.” (This also ties into discussions I’ve been having with my friend Emmy and others about our interest in world simulation at the table. Maybe more on that another time?)

Basically, I wanted a map making game that focused on building out relationships and landscapes between settlements. When I couldn’t find one, I decided to take TQY and hack it. Turns out, it still works really well when you zoom out a little!

The Changes

Here are four major changes in this hack:

  • The Scope: this hack zooms out and speeds up. Instead of telling stories about a single community, it looks at the space between multiple communities. Instead of telling the story of a single year, we will tell stories over multiple years, alternating between the four suits as we do so.
  • The Events: this hack has a completely new set of events to draw from. I’ve got a future blog post where I will study the original TQY deck more closely as I revise these ones. Keep your eye out.
  • The Resources: Resources no longer apply to the whole map, but to individual settlements. (What happens when a nearby settlement has an abundance of the potable water you lack?)
  • The Actions: Instead of Hold a Discussion, we Convene, inviting specific settlements to the table. Instead of Start a Project, we will Plan, with a focus on developing new infrastructure, making political gambits, and leveraging force to acquire what we need. A settlement’s plans can only reach as far as its routes.

Playtime

We played the entire hack across two sessions with four players (technically 5 but one person swapped for another part way in). We were using Roll20 as our VTT, which continues to be the bane of my games but worked reasonably well this time. We decided on making an archipelago with multiple biomes for some fun island-hopping in our game. After each of us declared an island, we each laid down a settlement and drew our first routes.

Our four major starting settlements included a metropolitan city that we kept calling Athens, a curious and exploratory settlement across a strait in the bay of a badlands island, a settlement of weird marble miners in the heart of a swampy island chain, and an aggressive community forging arms atop a mountain.

Athens was an ambitious city-state, continuously expanding with off-shoot settlements but often unable to maintain control of its children. One “Lumbertown” in particular initiated (and won) a war of secession at the same time that Athens attempted to violently colonize the mountain folk. They remained the largest power on the map but never managed to become the empire they dreamed of being.

The mountain folk and the marble miners started off with rocky relations, but early-on shared in the founding of a new settlement on the coast of the forested mainland. This settlement ended up becoming the most spiritually and mystically rich community on the map, with a public school that incorporated the ritual practices of both of its parent nations but eventually schismed after a political wedding.

The explorers in the badlands, on the other hand, found themselves delving into all corners of the map. They were the first to sail off the edge of the map, only to return when they encountered foreigners (who later settled across the bay). They established a research outpost in an atoll far to the south, and were the first to scout a pristine, enormous, haunted marble city lodged in the tundra to the west. When an abandoned mine was uncovered in the badlands with inscrutable machinery, they were the ones to study them.

A few lingering threads provide some rich material to tell new stories with. Marble ruins scattered across the map. A blight in the deep. A pirate crew on a remote island marauding the sea. First contact with new peoples on the mainland. A prophet gaining influence. Spirits warning us of something we don’t understand. The White Witch in the woods. The foreigners with their alien technology and a grand project on the verge of completion. Talking bugs???

A crudely drawn digital map of a fantastical archipelago. There are 6 major regions each drawn in a different colour. Small areas on each are circled in a different colour to represent a settlement in that area, with a short list of resources next to it. Light grey lines are routes that connect the settlements to other places on the map.
This is the end-state of the world we made through play.

Reflections

Play was extremely smooth, with the usual slow-burn that TQY tends to result in. The only major hiccup on the first session was related to repeatedly skipping parts of the turn procedure, but that is a pain point present in the vanilla game already. I’ll be considering revisions to the procedure nonetheless, and I’ve got a couple variations I’d like to try out.

The shift from map-specific to settlement-specific resources seems promising, but needs refining. I’m currently considering a shift to a tag-based system as opposed to abundances and scarcities. I wonder, what makes a scarcity feel like it can undercut your plans?

I’ve made notes on multiple event cards to revise as well. In the future I would like to revise the distribution of the cards to reflect more of the character of each season. There was a lot of enthusiasm when the players would turn the clock to winter because it was the most magical and dramatic time of year.

Two less notable changes were received pretty positively: there is no restriction on communication and there are no contempt tokens. This was especially appreciated by one of my autistic players who is particularly affected by unclear or incomplete communication with other players.

The changes made to actions were positively received. These will likely only require subtle adjustments in how they are presented. Convene in particular was a favourite because of its use as both a diplomatic tool and also a plan-prompting idea-generator.

One area that needs focus is the pacing and in particular the telegraph of the ending. Multiple players expressed that they missed the presence of the Frost Shepherds (TQY’s ending event), and were never sure when the game would end. I am mulling over the ending mechanic in The Ground Itself by Everest Pipkin and the window-breaking mechanic in one of my earlier (unfinished! 💀) works, Glass, as places to pull from.

Overall, I think I am on to something good here!

1 thought on “Play Report: A New Hack of The Quiet Year”

  1. I am always blown away by the different ways you approach narratives and games, identifying and exploring possibilities either between or beyond current/popular concepts. I can’t wait to see the kind of stories you will tell and experiences you will craft in the future; I get a very real feeling that you will revolutionize the artistic world one of these days.

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