The Warren is a role-playing game about rabbits. No, not anthropomorphic rabbits with swords and rabbit wizards. Just rabbits. It's the Watership Down of RPGs. You are prey. And the world is trying to kill you.
I first got to play The Warren at Big Bad Con 2016 with The Grand Warren. My GM at the time was Colin Fahrion, and he has playtested and written a little companion setting for the game, called Apocalypse Warren, which combines a little more of Apocalypse World with The Warren... a little Mad Max flavor of Aussie outback and post apocalyptic mayhem.
Apocalypse Warren test run
So, I was actually planning to run The Watch for a few friends, but due to some mix-ups and a drop out, and my daughter joining us, we ended up doing this instead. Now, although I'd played once, and have reviewed things like the playbooks and such, I hadn't really read through the book. But how hard could running the game be, right? Fortunately, PbtA does make it a little easier than most games to wing it (but more on that, later).
What resulted was a bit of quest... 4 bunnies sent from Sweet Tree Valley to Bigly Noise, the human encampment, to get medicine. Medicine that publicly is for a rabbit struck by a car, but privately is really for the queen of the warren, dying from a cancer.
We had Waratah (special move: Tooth and Claw), Straw (special move: Squirmy) and litter-mate Lightning (special move: Swift Runner), and Midnight (special move: Seer) who has visions of the future.
They dodged a few hunting humans. They visited Luiz, the crazy rabbit who lived on her own, a waypoint on the journey to the town. And finally some domesticated dingo dogs, rats and medicine, and an epilogue which included the queen dying anyways. But Waratah, scarred but alive, eventually takes leadership of the warren.
Favorite quote of the game... each time the phrase "chaotic humans" or "crazy humans" was mentioned, Waratah would pipe up: "You can just say human".
Lessons learned: Have them roll Resist Panic (or just give Panic) more. Use the moves more frequently. Hard moves are great, but don't go immediately to scars without some setup, or it feels a bit too harsh (especially for the one rabbit who was the toughest!). Oh ya, and read the actual rules. There was a great special move on the "kids" character sheet called Littermate, which would've been excellent to use with Gina and Nova's characters, for example. Live and learn...
Kids Apocalypse Warren
So, prior to Strategicon, I had a few weeks, and somewhere in there I actually read the book. It was great working out all the things I hadn't done in the prior session, and it solidified how to improve.
At Gateway 2017 I setup a Kids Only Games on Demand session, and in that I ended up with two players, Nova and Finn. The Warren, being about rabbits, is not necessarily a kid friendly game, as the themes can go dark, and you are pretty vulnerable to severe injury and death, and are really somewhat limited in the normally easy go to option of "attack". The daughter I know well, and she likes things a little on the dark side, enjoying movies like Mad Max Fury Road and Aliens. Finn is a little older, but I've seen him at the con for a few years now, and he also seemed pretty clever and emotionally mature.
We went with the Apocalypse Warren (as the prior game I wrote about), but in asking them about their goals for the story, they wanted more of a "raid a trade caravan" feel. We had a cool little 2-3 hour session, with Finn playing Scarface (move: Not Scared of You), and Nova playing two rabbits: Lightning (move: Swift Runner) and Vision (move: Seer). Their leader, the Duchess, told them steal some seeds from plants the humans were growing in their glass house.
They tried to convince their owl friend (who hates the taste of rabbit) to assist, but she wouldn't have any of it (bad roll). Eventually, some of the rabbits were captured by humans driving through the desert, and the last rabbit was able to jump onto the truck and hide (some good rolls). Scarface was pretty clever and bit through the net holding them, but then decided to stay in there and wait for the opportune moment to escape. They took the ride and got to the human encampment, their goal, and fled, finding the rats, and negotiating a favorable deal with their leader.
Lessons learned: Don't use the pre-made map, draw it out at the table (this was Nova's feedback as she sat through both of these sessions).
Gauntlet Warren. In the Desert.
The most recent game was one I was much happier with, as far as results. I had signed up to play in The Gauntlet's series on The Warren. This was the second session, and they had done some world building and play the prior week using the Painted Desert play setting written by Marissa Kelly (found under World Playsets on the Bully Pulpit Games website). Similar to the Apocalypse Warren setting I wrote about above, each setting comes with custom questions about the warren, setting, relationships, and stakes, and includes custom moves, names, NPCs, predators, threats, and so on.
I was connecting simply to play, as one of four players, with the GM being Gerrit, a regular at The Gauntlet. I recently had the pleasure of playing with him, but unfortunately, Gerrit's internet broke due to a combination of Guatemala and rain and bad timing. About 15 minutes in, just after we'd created out characters and were about to start, the game looked like it might get cancelled. Gerrit suggested we could just have one of us run the game, and after a quick look around the room, I took the reigns. (I was the only one who had run the Warren before, so why not, right?)
A Warren fascist state
The game started with the death of Chief Suntail, a well regarded leader. Also, many rabbits from other warrens are currently joining, and the tunnels are starting to collapse (due to disorganization, or population, or some other means). The leadership vacuum is quickly filled by Blackburr, a strong and capable rabbit. But as it turns out, also a rabbit which wants to solidify power against those that would oppose him, and one that blames the foreigners for the current troubles.
The game quickly became dark, with Blackburr recruiting his Black Suns, rabbits who would mark their chest with a dark sun showing their allegiance. The PCs were called to support, and we fast-forwarded a few days to see the results on the warren. Little Brickle was saddened by the lack of all his pals, as he was always a social rabbit, and now many of the foreigners were no longer seen around. Viho was concerned about this power grab, but also seemed powerless to do much about it. And little Prickle was quick to join the Black Suns, thinking this all a fun game where he gets to boss around rabbits larger than himself. I've got to admit that the parallels between Prickle, and a misguided and simple-minded Hitler youth, were a bit rough to watch!
Before long they had some decisions to make. They were approached by Coriander, an old friend and storyteller they hadn't seen in days, warily wandering around the warren. Turns out he was sneaking out rabbits and guiding them to a new, secret Warren, where they could be safe. Coriander ran off, as the PCs were then approached by some Black Suns and called into court of the leader Blackburr, who assigned them the role of routing out spies in their midst.
After a few close calls with various encounters, and a playful moment where they were able to use the Relax move to assuage some Panic, we got to use the Innovate move. This is a special move in the Warren game, where rabbits can create a move, an action unheard of among rabbits. If they roll well, they do it and that move becomes something any rabbit can do (for good or ill). If they don't do it, well then, no rabbit can ever attempt that action again.
There was a recurring theme of bullying in the session, and so we ended up with the following:
"When you act like a bully to someone above your station, on a 10+, they will back down (at least temporarily). On a 7-9, they are not convinced, but you are able to make an opening.
They successfully bullied some Black Sun guards away from an entrance when trying to meet Coriander, and bolstered by their newfound confidence, were later were able to save Rubus who was about to get killed by a hawk. They journeyed to the new warren, but were split up during a bit of chaos.
Prickle and Viho follow Coriander to attempt to ask advice of a wise rabbit who lives on her own in the vicinity, a prior resident of the warren: Sage. They get attacked by a venomous snake when exploring the wrong cave entrance, and Viho is now at 3 scars for the session. (Each scar in the Warren means you lose one of your basic, or your character moves.) They find Sage, and ask for advice (and I got to use the custom move for the setting: Honoring Your Elders). My favorite was Prickle asking for advice on how to become a wise rabbit... with Sage saying she was just like him many years ago; simply listen to your heart, instead of following the orders of others.
Meanwhile, little Brickle lost Rubus after attempting to dig him a temporary shelter, but later found the new warren using his sense of scent. The new warren wasn't comfortable like the old, but he was reunited with many of his old friends, and he found Rubus there as well! In that final scene, Rubus nursed his injured hind legs, gives Brickle a conspiratory nod, whispering, "We've found all the spies."
Lessons learned: It's good to learn lessons! The prior "mistakes" (or regrets) when running the earlier Warren sessions set me up to feel comfortable running this game. I felt like we did a great job hitting many of the moves in interesting ways. I'm pretty happy with how we got to also hit a few world setting specific moves and threats, although next time I'd like to have noted down the PC moves, as I don't think I kept those in mind. Getting to run a grim Warren session was extra fun.
Also, there were many times when the Help move came up during the session, and this led to some great drama. The rabbits don't have many strengths, but one of them is definitely this ability to help each other eek out a bit of better positioning. I highly recommend letting that happen as often as possible.
Normally, I'd say epilogues are really great for one-shots, however because this is an ongoing series, and I don't know how much time will pass between this session and the next, the next-best thing to an epilogue was the various closing scenes for the PCs... one gets to the new Warren, but doesn't know if they will be ratted out, and the others find the sage and get some expert advice. It felt like a decent landing.