Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Five or So Questions with Keith Stetson on Seco Creek

Hi y'all! Today I have an interview about Seco Creek Vigilance Committee with Keith Stetson! Seco Creek Vigilance Committee is currently on Kickstarter and sounds like a really fun time! It's a one-shot length, western themed game. Check out Keith's responses below!


Tell me a little about Seco Creek Vigilance Committee. What excites you about it?

Seco Creek Vigilance Committee is a Western RPG about justice, law, revenge, and the discrepancy between what is right and what is good. It's designed for intense, one-shot play with a non-random resolution system that emphasizes choices and their consequences. It's not focused on if the characters can do something, but rather on what they're willing to endure to do it.

The thing that really excites me about Seco Creek is how the situation balances on the knife edge. There are no easy answers and there are no right answers. In the shifting landscape of moral ambiguities every action has a reaction that pushes back against what the character thinks they believe and they want. Everyone has to find their own path through the fraught situation. I've run the game dozens of times; it rarely ends well, but it never ends the same way twice.

What inspired the Favor mechanic, and what kind of responses does it provide in game, especially in the one-shot format?

The whole design has migrated a lot as I fine tuned it to get what I wanted. Originally it was a more-or-less straightforward Lady Blackbird hack, but that lacked tools for the needed social interactions with NPCs. At the time (and at this time, too) I was fascinated with Avery Alder's mechanics for Dream Askew, especially how you control the economy of chips by how strong a move you make. That translated into the idea of If you bow to a Faction you get a chip, but if you force them to bow to you you lose one. But just causing a Faction to do something didn't make sense as always losing a chip. If the Townsfolk like me and I offer to buy the next round, "spending" a chip of Favor and becoming less popular didn't make sense.

Players generally approach Favor in one of two ways. The first type grabs onto it as a way to amass power and directs their actions to gather Favor with as many Factions as possible. The second type does whatever they think is in keeping with their character's nature and lets the Favor show how the world is reacting. Both are totally valid ways to play.

Seco Creek being a one shot means folks are less cautious about losing Favor and harvesting enmity from Factions. There is no tomorrow, so they go all in today. Conversely it means that if you're sitting on a fat stack at the end of play, your character's epilogue is looking pretty sweet.

How has Negotiation played out in game - how does it work mechanically, and how have players reacted to the level of control?

One of the unintentional features of Seco Creek that I love is its modularity. You can play an entire, satisfying game of it without ever engaging in certain mechanics. Negotiation is one of those. If you never take an action upon another player's character, you never need to use it.

Now, if you want to start throwing haymakers and wrassling for keys, then you Negotiate. Mechanically, the acting player says what they want to come to pass:

I want to stop you from leaving the room, I want to knock the gun from your hand, I want to punch you in that ugly mug of yours.
The acted upon player says what they require to make that action true:

Alright, I don't leave the room, but as I stride towards you, you flinch and everyone sees it. The Townsfolk no longer think you can keep them safe, and you lose a Favor with them. Plus, you get labeled a coward.

If the acting player agrees, everything stated occurs. If not, the players go back and forth until they can establish terms. If they can't, the Judge (the GM role) decides the situation, most often to no one's liking.

This works really well for most players, because if your character wants something bad enough, they can nearly always get it; you just have to be willing to pay the price. It gives you a similar level of control as Fate Points do, but what you're spending is narrative positioning. Where are you willing to be weak so you can be strong here? And again we see a version of Avery's Dream Askew mechanic popping up.

Is that a callout to 3:10 to Yuma I see in that initial descriptive text image? What are the inspirations for Seco Creek Vigilance Committee - movies, books, other games?

Well, you caught the reference to 3:10 to Yuma, so that's the first one! ;) There are also a handful of nods to tons of other classic Westerns. Game wise we've already talked about Lady Blackbird and Dream Askew, but another big influence was Apocalypse World - particularly the phrase "tell them the consequences and ask." That's basically both the Favor and Negotiation mechanics boiled down to a single phrase.

However, all those influences are secondary ones. The entire premise of the tense situation the players step into comes from Warlock by Oakley Hall. I've tweaked some particulars, but on the whole what you see is the set up that made me want to see it played out in an RPG desperately enough to write one. Warlock is a terrifically well written and nuanced book, and I'm actually thinking of using another section from it to craft a stretch goal...

Why a one-shot? What about this format really appeals to you and makes the game shine?

Like a lot of folks, one of the first indie games I ever played was Fiasco. Its one-shot nature made it so you could use your character hard and not worry about next week. Making Seco Creek a one-shot gives the players that same feeling; the characters are already prepared to go all in, and now you have permission to do so, as well. Seco Creek's rules are also designed to cause the character arc you might see in a campaign to be compressed down into one session. It's a distillation of all the drama, tension and transformation.


Thanks so much for the great interview, Keith! I hope you all enjoyed reading it, and that you'll check out Seco Creek Vigilance Committee on Kickstarter, and share the interview with your friends! :)

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