Freebooting Venus: Unofficially Completing the Game

Hi all,

Has anyone here played Freebooting Venus? It was a draft PbtA game developed by Vincent Baker that ended up being discontinued. It’s meant to be for old-school Sword & Sorcery, the kind from before D&D, when the heroes both wielded swords and did sorcery.

Well some friends (some of them may be lurking on this forum) and I are currently playing. We’re having lots of fun, but we’re also spending some time brainstorming some fixes and addenda to various parts of the game.

One particular missing topic in the original draft is Wizardry. Freebooting Venus features a really neat spell system where anyone can memorize a spell from a special spell tablet. When you cast the spell, the standard effects can be modified dramatically on-the-fly from what you expected. You can force the magic to work the way you want, but it weakens the strength of the tablet, and it can eventually stop working entirely. The original game rules mention that you could use the Wizardry skill to restore the tablet, but this skill never gets described!

If there’s any interest, I can post some of our ideas on Wizardry (and other stuff) for feedback. Feel free to propose ideas of your own, or ask questions if you’ve got any.

Sincerely,

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Nice to see this post here!

I’m the GM for this game, and I’ve been excited and curious about Freebooting Venus for quite some time, but could never convince anyone to play it with me until recently. We’ve been playing for a little while now: about ten short sessions, I think. The game is quirky and rough in places, but also really colourful, unique, and distinctive.

Rafu used to run this game a lot and post about it elsewhere, but I don’t think Rafu is here on the Gauntlet. Anyone else here who is familiar with the game, or curious about it?

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Loved to play it and its predeccesor, good Vancian vibes. Would love to see your thoughts!

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Great! Let’s get to it then. :slight_smile:

First, a bit of context. In Freebooting Venus, the power source for a spell is some kind of magical creature called a plasmid. Here’s an excerpt from the rules that shows the spell The Wizard’s Candle:

The Wizard’s Candle

You open a vent between this world and a world of endless fire. Flame licks through the vent. It is flame only like a candle’s, no more, but it is steady, bright, and hot. You can use it for illumination or to set flammable things alight. You hold the vent in your cupped hand, and can pass it from hand to hand, but you cannot leave it behind or move it otherwise. The vent remains open until you close it, at which [point] the flame winks out. Except… [roll 1d6 per spell strength, and choose one option from among what you rolled]
1. The vent floats in the air nearby, not in your cupped hand. You can cause it to move wherever you like, by gesturing.
2. Some minor denizen of that fiery world squeezes through the vent into this world. Ask the GM how it appears and what it does next.
3. The vent opens into the wrong world, a world of howling chill. Instead of flame, a viciously and dangerously cold wind jets out.
4. The longer you hold the vent open, the wider it tears. At first it admits flame like a candle’s, then like a torch’s, then like a cook fire’s, then a bonfire’s, then a house fire’s, then a forest fire’s, then…
5. The vent you open is incomplete. It allows to pass through either the light of the flame but not the heat, or the heat of the flame but not the light; you choose which.
6. The spell returns to its native plasmic world unsettled. [-1 to spell strength]

You have the additional option of choosing whichever option you want, but that will also reduce the spell strength by 1.

Now each spell typically starts with a strength of 2. Each time you choose option 6 (maybe because you rolled double six, or because the other option was really bad) or, more likely, force the spell to give the special effect that you want, the spell strength is drained by 1. At 1, it’s harder to use the spell. At 0 the spell no longer works at all.

So the rules don’t give any way to restore a spell’s strength. We figured that (among other things) the Wizardry skill could give you the following Move:

Settle a Plasmid

During downtime between adventures, choose a tablet with strength 1 or 2 and make a roll to attempt to either placate the plasmid (+Patience), or force the plasmid to forget its suffering (+Bold).

10+ increase the tablet’s strength by 1
7- 9 increase the tablet’s strength by 1, and roll 1 die. On anything but a 6, that spell possibility is modified. If you placated the plasmid, then the rewrite should be milder, less dramatic, less explosive. If you forced your will on the plasmid, then the rewrite should be more wild, uncontrollable, and dramatic
6- the tablet strength remains unchanged, and a spell possibility is rewritten, as above

So for example: let’s say I used this Move for The Wizard’s Candle, rolled +Bold, and got an 8. I would then roll another die. Let’s say I got a 4. Now perhaps when the vent starts increasing in size, it happens much faster. Or maybe it opens a companion vent to a world of frost, and they both increase in size and conflict with each other. Etc. If I had rolled +Patience and gotten a 7, then rolled a 2, perhaps only a tiny, friendly cherub would come through. Or the denizen won’t be able to fit through and will just block the vent.

What do you think?

If you had this issue too, how did you solve it?

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Sorry, “its predecessor”? What do you mean by that? (Perhaps “Hand to Mouth…”? If so, did you have a good time playing it? Vincent ended up being very unhappy with that game, and warned people never to play it… :smiley: )

@Demiurge and I have also played a bit of The Wizard’s Grimoire, which seems to be “set” in the same universe/setting/genre. So, we could discuss that series of games here, as well, if it ties into the setting or the design.

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Yes, Hand to Mouth…, just forgot its name. We enjoyed it quite much for a while! Felt like a bunch of Cugel the Clever characters trying to to climb the social ladder. I loved the lodging rules. But I think we turned to Freebooting Venus after 3 or 4 sessions.

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Yeah, I think that’s how it’s supposed to work! I’m glad someone had a good time with that game - I haven’t tried it myself, after Vincent was so serious about dissuading us from playing it (all caps and everything!).

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On a sidenote, those CAPS are ironic signs for me that the message is not 100% serious. Although maybe I just misunderstood its intent - I am not a native speaker.

Also, sometimes a creator might be dissatisfied with the result from a design perspective, while the participants love the experience. It happened to me a couple of times as a GM.

I think the game is promising, agreed! I can see having fun with it, and I print out its tables for job creation in Freebooting Venus (although it hasn’t come up yet; the initial situation generated more than enough trouble on its own).

But I’m quite sure Vincent wasn’t being ironic:

DO NOT PLAY HAND TO MOUTH IN THE CITY OF NEPHTHYS.

-Vincent

Sounds funny, right? But then the clarification came:

[Hand to Mouth in the City of Nephthys] is terrible. It seemed like it might be fun, funny, pointed, and a good idea, but no. It takes two of the things that make Freebooting Venus work - examining your treasure and pursuing experiences - and turns them into a bitter, disempowering slog.

Okay, so yes, it remains pointed. Fine.

Freebooting Venus is already perched on the precarious verge of “the GM’s job is to have an NPC offer you employment, and your job is to undertake and accomplish it,” and Hand to Mouth tries to edge even further out, by (ta da!) making it the GM’s job to have NPCs offer you employment. The game’s only safeguard left is the experience list, and there’s just no way for it to stand up to the weight of tradition. No wonder it topples off and plummets awfully down.

Anyhow, like Blind Blue and Hatchet City, if I could send an email to myself in the past, I’d tell myself not to publish this at all.

-Vincent

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Can someone explain to me how what the author says is different from “It’s bad because it’s mission based ?”

At the risk of totally turning this thread into a discussion of this issue, I’ll address this. And then, hopefully we can get back to Freebooting Venus, or start a new thread to continue.

The issue with “Hand to Mouth” is that it places the characters in a real difficult spot (poor, powerless, etc), and then the GM offers them work. The work is problematic and underpaid.

I believe it was Vincent’s intention that the players/characters would see this and, more or less, rebel against the system. Refuse to do the work, steal, run away, turn on their employers, perhaps. Anything but just moving forward with continuing to do the unrewarding and difficult work.

I think Vincent hoped that the Good Experiences list (similar or identical to Freebooting Venus) would carry enough weight to inspire the players to do this, but, it seems, in practice, the weight of tradition was heavier. It seems - from Vincent’s report - that many/most people didn’t do that.

‘Hand to Mouth’ seems playable and fun to me, but I haven’t actually tried it.

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Going back to the main topic:

  1. @Demiurge, I have a few comments about the Wizardry.

First, the skill is described in the text; it’s just really boring (and potentially very powerful, especially combined with our magic house rule!).

Second, I’ve been pondering the purpose of the miss in this move. (And whether it should be two different moves, with different consequences, which would make it a more interesting choice.)

I wonder if it should be harsher or more forgiving.

I also wonder if it should involve treasure somehow.

For instance, roll to placate (+0), or to dominate the plasmid (+1), and add 1 if you’re willing to spend a lot on the process (requires someone to be enjoying a “time of high living”).

Placating has gentle loss consequences, whereas dominating has pretty dramatic ones.

Not a great implementation, but a proof of concept.

  1. The thing that bothers me most in terms of the text at this point is how unclear the treasure and experience procedure is.

It creates weird situations sometimes, and it could use some fictional clarity.

a) When exactly do we roll, and what does it mean? Can you reroll at another time? Is there a fictional action required? How much do we define about the object or its nature?

(This is relevant to our game, because we have a mummy to deal with… can the characters just “cash it in” automatically, or is it legit to create fictional demands, first? For instance, learning what it is, who it might be valuable to, finding a buyer, etc? The rules suggest that we abstract all this away, but sometimes that either limits the fiction in odd ways or limits our ability to create interesting situations. I’d love to see the characters try to find an opportunity to sell this mummy to someone “on screen”, for instance.)

b) What about a single “treasure” that’s more valuable? Is that possible? If so, how is it spent or used? Could we say that you get a deed to a property for instance, and have that count as 3 treasures, but all for establishing an estate?

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I believe it was Vincent’s intention that the players/characters would see this and, more or less, rebel against the system. Refuse to do the work, steal, run away, turn on their employers, perhaps. Anything but just moving forward with continuing to do the unrewarding and difficult work.

But this is exactly what happened in our campaign! Hand to mouth is not a proper campaign game in itself, its a precursor to Freebooting Venus. You can’t really upgrade to FB, you need to abandon HtM for FB.

Yeah, it seems like that would happen, to me, as well! But Vincent had the opposite experience, I guess. I’d like to hear about your game/campaign, if you’re willing to start another thread!

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The popularity of this twitter thread suggests that perhaps not only that players didn’t want to break out of the patter, but that GMs may not have understood the progression either:

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Paul wrote:

First, the skill is described in the text; it’s just really boring

That’s funny, I totally missed that! Here’s the original rule:

Wizardry, the magical art of spellcasting.
• When you Recover, Regroup & Prepare, you can choose as an option to
resettle an unsettled spell.
• Wizardry is also a prerequisite for all the endeavors of a wizard in your
library, laboratory, seclusium, or enclave.

Right, so all it requires is a Recover roll, which is quite easy and depends on the Patient stat. You could pretty much assume success in-between adventures, and only bother with a roll if you’re in the middle of something stressful. Oddly, this means you could potentially resettle a spell quickly, perhaps in the middle of a fight?

I’ve mentioned before that I think all the skills in Freebooting Venus would be a lot more interesting if they had their own special Move (or even more than one Move for crucial skills like Wizardry or Sword-binding!), instead of just being a little bonus or extra facet to the standard Moves.

Second, I’ve been pondering the purpose of the miss in this move.

Some playtesting might be required to get a better feel for this. I was having trouble trying to brainstorm changes on the fly. But I feel like it could make each spell tablet really customized and interesting.

(And whether it should be two different moves, with different consequences, which would make it a more interesting choice.)

Seems to me like more complexity than it’s worth. In my view, if Wizardry needs more Moves it would be for other aspects of Wizardry, like making a grimoire, new spells, magical items, or making/summoning magical servants (like golems, imps, or whatever).

I also wonder if it should involve treasure somehow.

It costs one treasure to buy a spell tablet in the first place. It’s a downward spiral to expect PCs to pony up 1 treasure just to recharge the darn thing. It’s also not really fair. If 1 Treasure = a brand new spell of strength 2 (or even 3, rarely!), then why would it take 1 whole Treasure to go from strength 0 to 1? I could buy a whole new spell for that! Unless, recharging a tablet is just basically allowing you to keep a specific spell that you like a lot, rather than going back to the lottery of a random roll to see what spell you can find. But it still feels unfair/unpleasant to me.

Keep in mind that we’d expect a more experienced freebooter to have up to 4 spells, and I imagine a wizard with a grimoire could have a dozen! Mind you, if they only need to be in a time of high living, then they could spend 1 treasure to recharge all the spells at once.

I’d prefer if a time of high living gives you a bonus to the roll. But it shouldn’t be required.

For instance, roll to placate (+0), or to dominate the plasmid (+1), and add 1 if you’re willing to spend a lot on the process (requires someone to be enjoying a “time of high living”).

I don’t see why either placating or dominating would be better than the other. I see them as depending on two different stats (either Patient or Bold) to allow for different styles of wizard. In classic Sword & Sorcery, we don’t have the separation of professions that they have in D&D. In Sword & Sorcery, a character can be both a sword master and a wizard. The separate classes in D&D were meant to foster collaboration between players during a challenge-based dungeon delve, since no single character could do everything on their own. This was great for creating a fun challenge game, but it was very poor genre emulation. I feel it matches the genre better if the Wizardry skill is a bit more varied in the stats it depends on, since it allows for different kinds of wizard.

The thing that bothers me most in terms of the text at this point is how unclear the treasure and experience procedure is.

Well, this is a totally separate problem.

I think the treasure rules are meant to abstract away boring parts. Do we really want to do a scene for each time we find a new piece of treasure, and negotiating a sale? I think it would get pretty stale, pretty quickly. Instead, Vincent has a clever rule that allows us to (1) cut to the chase, and (2) make a significant decision by choosing between different options, so we learn about our characters and advance in a kind of zig-zag non-linear way.

If you want us to actually play out trying to convert the mummy into cash, because there’s an actually fun adventure to be found in that direction, then go ahead and do so.

We’ve also encountered the issue where our characters wanted to have a new property together (which is a pretty typical desire for people that are in a party/mercenary band/criminal gang together, no?) and the rules seem to assume that all PCs need to have their own separate home. I find this odd.

b) What about a single “treasure” that’s more valuable? Is that possible? If so, how is it spent or used? Could we say that you get a deed to a property for instance, and have that count as 3 treasures, but all for establishing an estate?

Sure, why not? You find a treasure, and when you examine it the GM has already pre-determined that it’s worth X treasures and can only buy Y. No problem. Or perhaps your character already knows the item’s worth when they take the treasure in the first place, so it starts off as an examined treasure.

Again, I think the treasure system is meant as a play aid to get to the fun as quickly as possible. Use it only as-needed.

Basically so! The skill seems strikingly effective (especially if multiple attempts are allowed, and even moreso if it’s possible increase a tablet’s rating above its original value!). You can pick the effect you want when casting a spell, and then just resettle it when you have a moment (which isn’t hard to do under most circumstances - you can accomplish it on a 7-9, after all).

The reason I think two different moves for resettling plasmids could be interesting is only because we developed some of this cosmology in our own game (which might not hold for others’ games!). If we want to differentiate between these two methods, I’d want them to be really, meaningfully fictionally different, not just a bit of colour. Is the more violent method more likely to harm the plasmid somehow, for instance? So perhaps they’d have different failure stakes, at least.

You make a really good point about how wizard and necromancers should make use of the various stats, for a variety of moves and rolls. I think that would be quite nice!

I like your take on using the treasure mechanics more loosely, too. I worry that it might undercut some types of agency, but on the surface it seems OK! It’s still not obvious how to apply that to larger investments or more valuable objects, but some easy solutions, as you suggest, might just work.

Yeah, I think this is a real challenge. On one hand, it’s natural and logical for the PCs to be interested in pooling their resources, moving in together, or helping each other run their mercantile enterprises. And the game generally encourages a “party-based” style of play.

On the other hand, the basic structure of character advancement is the treasure/lodgings system. Just like how in D&D you advance by gaining levels, the main way you “advance” here is by upgrading your lifestyle and your lodgings (with collecting spell tablets and ghosts being a secondary, but limited avenue - since you’re only allowed 4). The various options are highly random, and could pull the characters in wildly different directions (e.g. one buys an estate outside the city, a second goes off to establish her seclusium, and the third starts running a publishing business). These elements are highly individual and seem like they can pull characters in different directions.

I’m not entirely sure how to reconcile all these factors.

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Paul wrote:

If we want to differentiate between these two methods, I’d want them to be really, meaningfully fictionally different, not just a bit of colour.

Can you propose something more specific? What would your Moves look like?

I like your take on using the treasure mechanics more loosely, too. I worry that it might undercut some types of agency

How so? Because it undercuts the PCs being able to select how to upgrade their character? If it’s for an occasional special item that’s an adventure hook, I don’t see a problem, personally.

in D&D you advance by gaining levels, the main way you “advance” here is by upgrading your lifestyle and your lodgings (with collecting spell tablets and ghosts being a secondary, but limited avenue - since you’re only allowed 4).

There are some additional factors to consider:

  1. You can also upgrade your skills. For things like Necromancy, Wizardry, and Sword-binding this could be really significant!
  2. You can upgrade your armor, which will will vastly increase your odds of success in combat
  3. A Grimoire can allow you to have more than 4 magical effects (ghosts, items, spells, etc.). How many more? How do you make one? Still TBD. But this would allow magic to be a much more potent part of the character.
  4. If you see your character advancing by creating team lodgings, doesn’t it go against the spirit of the game (player choice) to prevent this? It would be easy enough to implement: all the characters need to have the appropriate treasure that allows a lodging upgrade, and then we can together do a group upgrade for lodgings. We each roll, and pick the choice we like best. That choice applies to everyone.
  5. The Good Experiences are the ultimate character advancement. All the upgrades are just means to the end of accomplishing the characters’ goals. The fact that you allow the players to select the Good Experiences that matter to them (and make new ones if desired) is a big deal here.
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