Tales of the Winter Pyro

Reflecting on the past journal games made me realize that Winter, while a fun game, needed some improving, especially having played Thousand-Year-Old Vampire. So, I decided to hack the game to make it a little more automated. You can read the rules here. It’s slightly more expanded than the previous hack I did of Winter and I’ll get into those details when possible and if not, I’ll explain more in the end.

For now, however, let us begin with the basic set up.

  • Health: 10
  • Hope: 10
  • Rations: ☐☐☐
  • Day: 0

It’s been a rather warm winter, this time of year. Though, that could be due to how there was a recent fire that had broken out and even now, remnants of the flames exist. It’s a double-edged sword. While it traps us in our bunkers, it also means a safe barrier from those who were trying to invade us. We’re at a stalemate and we’re counting the days before we get a secure way out of here.

Though, I doubt I’ll make it out alive. These flames will get me… or… well, the enemy might.

Since we open with a Camaraderie scene, I think it might work out that…

We used one of the fires to cook up some meals. They were nice and hearty, not like the grub we were fed in bootcamp. There, I made friends with a few soldiers, friends I hoped would come out of the battle alive. With breakfast well in our bellies, we would be ready to head into battle if the enemy strikes.

One of the things I’ve added to this game is the ability to gain hope. However, it’s rare, since you need to roll a natural 12 to get the point, though you may spend a ration to automatically get a 12 result. Not that it matters, since my character is maxed out at 10.

And now, we will do the scene roll. The idea here is that there’s three segments. The morning segment is already handled and now we do the afternoon segment.

[Roll: 8]

And that makes it a violence scene. One thing I added was a way to see what sort of violence it is. Would it be something that will hurt you or something that will scar you? This would damage either your health or your hope. There’s a rare chance that you’ll get hit with both and a rarer chance that you make it out unharmed.

[Roll: 5]

In this case, I take mental harm, which damages my hope. Now to explain how that happens…

However, as the flames grew higher and higher, one of our men fell into the fire and burned alive. The event had scarred me for some time.

And now he takes a point of harm. Next event, the evening event.

[Roll: 8]

Another violence scene.

[Roll: 11]

This time it’s mixed harm. I’m going to now ask the built in Oracle to answer a question I have.

[Q: Is this from the enemy this time? Odds: 50/50. A: 5, No]

So, we’re going to assume this is still the fire and that…

I burned myself trying to save someone, but like that person, he burned away with the skin on my arm.

Ouch. Well, now comes the time for my character to make an end-of-day reflection of what had transpired. Though, I don’t think it will take that much effort. All my character will be doing is saying something along the lines of “don’t play with fire, literally”.

So, onto the next day.

  • Health: 9
  • Hope: 8
  • Rations: ☐☐☐
  • Day: 1 [Relief? 4, no]

And now we begin the day with another event.

[Roll: 5]

Alright, so this is a survival scene. It’s not different from the survival scene in the original Winter, where you would need to roll a die to see if you’re getting food. I would assume this is more for gathering food since we have tons of fires and thus we don’t need heat.

[Result: 9, Gruesome Choice]

We went out to search for food, though we could only find a few rats. Big ones, though, enough to last for about eight or so hours. They were hibernating when we killed them… Almost felt a little awful.

And that’s a -1 to hope. And no 12 so we don’t regain health. Afternoon scene now.

[Roll: 10]

Ah, yes! The Volunteer scene! Of all the bits in the original rules that I took issue with, this was the one that I saw no benefit in choosing. In the original game, you have the choice to partake in a volunteer mission that will result in a near 75 precent chance of ending your game with no real benefit outside of “… Okay, I’m done playing. I just want to end it.”. There’s even an outcome where, while the game isn’t “over”, it may as well be due to how the game instructs you to ‘continue the game until you feel

Granted, there’s a special 8% chance within that 75% that your character just gets badly wounded and has to heal at a hospital where they’ll be discharged, but even then, that’s a high amount of risk for little to no reward.

I get it, narratively, it’s meant to paint the fact that war is ultimately senseless violence and that the volunteer mission places the main character head first into a deadly conflict with no guarantee of survival, but I feel like I can do better.

For one, I’ve included the Hope score as a modifier. This alone changes a lot about how the game is played now. While it’s true that war is senseless, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t without hope. The higher hope the person has, the more likely they’ll survive the outcome.

To give you an example, with a Hope score of 10, you’ll only have a 33% chance of ending the game, but the endings you’ll achieve will be positive. Likewise, having no hope will result in an 83% chance of a game over, though with a bad ending. A Hope of 5 will give a 66% percent chance of ending the game.

Since I have a Hope of 8, this means I have a 41% chance of getting a game over, but half of that is a happy ending for my character. So, you know what? Let’s roll those dice.

So, I’m going to assume that we might be needing to use the fire to burn a crucial spot of enemy territory. I’ll take the offer and the next spot will be a Violence Scene.

[Roll: 1]

Physical Harm, I can tank that.

There weren’t enough torches to go around, so I used my own arm as a makeshift torch. It was already burnt off, so the worst I could do with it was make it non-existent.

And after that, we skip reflection and go right into rolling the D12 that determines the outcome of the Volunteering…

[Roll: 9]

Alright, so I had a hope of 8 and I rolled a 1. This means I get the “Cold, So Cold” ending. I take three damage, my Hope instantly becomes 0 and I will basically play out the rest of the game until my Health hits 0, with no means of regaining Hope or even being relieved of duty. I can regain Health, but as I have just realized, it isn’t really beneficial if you decide you’re done with the game and want to finish it.

Maybe I should do something like the Beast or Holidays where there’s a set day limit your character is stationed out on. That way it shows how, despite getting this “Cold, So Cold” result, you have an extremely slim chance of making it anyways. After all, it’s always darkest before the dawn. And, since Oracles are basically the placeholder for GM, it’s only natural that I ask the Oracle to see if it can allow me to imbue these rules into this session.

[Q: Am I able to have a fifteen-day limit in this playthrough? Odds: 50/50. A: 9]

Alright, so there is hope yet. So, our character manages to pull off the mission, but I’ll say at an extremely heavy cost to reflect the “Cold, So Cold” route: He lost his arm in the mission. Normally, he would be discharged, but the weather and overall environment makes it difficult for travel, so he’s stuck there until further notice.

To compensate for the mission, the commander offers a reward to our character. This is the one major thing I’ve added to Winter: the premise of a selectable reward after a volunteer, to incentivise taking a risk like I had. There’s four rewards, recovering health, hope, rations, or adding an extra day. The only reward I can take right now is a stay at the hospital where they can properly “treat” my burns. Mechanics wise, this is resolved with me rolling a D12 and dividing by 4.

  • Health: 8
  • Hope: 0
  • Rations: ☐☐☐
  • Day: 3

Alright, so now we have only 12 days left until we finish the game. If I lose Hope, I will take damage and if I lose Health, I take twice the damage. This means if I get a Mixed result, I’ll lose three health. So, Violence Scenes will be painful. Let’s roll the dice.

[Roll: 9]

And spoke too soon.

[Roll: 6]

Mental Harm… To spare you from the imagery, our character is going through PTSD over the mission yesterday and takes one point of Hope damage.

[Roll: 2]

Camaraderie.

While staying away from the fire, a few of my allies came over to check how I was, even giving me some hot chocolate to keep warm while I stayed away. I feigned a smile… I knew the warmth will never reach my heart.

No need to roll a D12 because I can’t recover Hope.

[Roll: 10]

Hmm… The night scene is another Volunteer Scene… I don’t need to take it. While I am damaged, I can’t obtain another stay at the hospital without taking the other reward, which gives me rations I don’t need. Not to mention it’s extremely risky, since I only have a 16% chance to make it… So, I might as well reject it for the time being.

So, the reflection this time around is mostly him just struggling with PTSD over losing his arm (among other things) to the fires that’s been spreading.

  • Health: 7
  • Hope: 0
  • Rations: ☐☐☐
  • Day: 4

Morning Routine?

[Roll: 4]

A survival scene.

[Roll: 11]

I finally got myself some decent food, whole rabbit… Meat was tender, though it was difficult without my other arm to fully skin it…

Alright, now to roll and see if I recover health.

[Roll: 5]

I do not, but I’ll tick off one of my Rations to make that result a 12 anyways, because my aim is to survive.

[Roll: 4]

Another Survival Scene.

[Roll: 5]

This time, a gruesome choice is to be made, so I guess one of the rabbits had decayed. Takes a damage of Health, and roll to see if I recover.

[Roll: 4]

Not gonna bother with a ration this time because there’s a good chance I’ll do another Survival Scene.

[Roll: 7]

Oh no. Violence scene.

[Roll: 4]

Oh no indeed…

So, the rabbit was indeed infected and he gets some stomach cramps. So, the reflection for this day is “don’t eat the green ones”.

  • Health: 5
  • Hope: 0
  • Rations: ☒☐☐
  • Day: 5

Okay, so I think today will be the day I will start the volunteering since I’m running low on rations.

[Roll: 7]

If only I could get one.

[Roll: 5]

Mental harm…

These fires are cursed… I ate rabbit from it and I was sickened… These fires have hurt me too much… I must do something about it.

So, overall this has become a better playthrough than the aliens one because right now we’re dealing with the deteriorating psyche of a soldier in a weird environment.

[Roll: 4]

[Roll: 11]

A survival scene where my character succeeds. Perhaps this is just him trying to keep away from the fires but at the same time, keeping close to them to not die in the cold.

[Roll: 1]

Using a ration to heal by one point.

[Roll: 12]

There we go! A volunteer scene! And it couldn’t have come at a better time! All I need to do is get the “Cold… So Cold…” result and I make am able to get the rations back and free up the heal. That or I end up ending the game. Fingers crossed…

[Roll: 2]

… Oh… Oh boy… So… you know how I said that I modified a lot of the Volunteer scene? Well, getting a natural 1 on your D12 (I never factored in a 0 Hope score before) means your character has effectively cost the war. Thankfully, I caught onto this right away and changed it so the table acknowledges the 0 Hope score.

So now, rolling a 2 results in the “Missing, Presumed Dead” ending, which I have to say is a more fitting conclusion than just ending the war. We just need to make one final roll:

[Roll: 3]

And that seals his fate of being dead. As for why they couldn’t find the body for so long… Well…

Dear Madam,

We regret to inform you that your husband has died… Though, in the time that has passed since his supposed relief day, you most likely have concluded that.

We took so long to write this letter because we weren’t sure if he was truly dead. Though, unfortunately, there’s not much of him left to bury. As a general, I have the utmost regret in sending anyone to this hellscape of a field. My last act as his general is to promote him posthumously to brigadier. He was truly a brave soldier, though, war had changed him for the worst.

I wish not to give you the details. I want you to remember him as he was, not what he became.

Signed,

General Peter ‘Petey’ Germain

So… I’m going to break down what I felt I did right with this game but also what I did wrong.

For the first part, it does feel like this is more of a story unraveling instead of a simple game about WWII. While most of it is autonomously done, some things, like using up rations or volunteering, are completely up to the player. With a simple description of the setting, I had effectively created a darker story with this system than the other ones.

On the down side, it is clear that with the added game elements, I have also ironically turned it into a more gamist system. While the scenes are randomized, there were parts where I was more planning out stuff rather than anticipating the next page of my character’s life. And in the end, I ultimately left it up to the fate of the Volunteer table to decide if my game ended here or not.

That said, there were definitely a few clear nuggets of story that I did enjoy. Maybe a little too dark for this site, but also tragic enough for it to be at least better than the alien one I did last year. Bon Voyage, Gamers.

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