Tuesday 7 May 2013

Crank up the intensity in Siege by Andrew Smith

Siege is a one shot story game where the players play all the parts in a hostage situation: Captor, Hostage and Police. Negotiate peacefully or waste the hostages. Make peace with the captors or nuke them from orbit. Feed the media circus or shut them out. Overpower your captor or reason with them. Moral ambiguity is explicit: cops can be bribed, the captor is following a good cause, the hostages are villains. It's got tight, emotive focus but does it work as a game?

Character Creation

With smaller number of players, the GM is both hostage and GM. With more players, roles are added in order. Your character has two Resistances: Patience, Resolve and 2 Abilities: Wit and Action. Patience and Resolve measure how emotional fatigue drains out of your character through the story. Wit and Action are more like traditional Attributes intelligence and strength-dex-etc.

You then pick a core expertise, which outlines the sort of things that you character can do (without being too broad). These add modifiers to checks when you use them. Examples for the police include sniper or negotiator. This is a public area of expertise, you also get to have two secret ones that you can reveal at any time. The GM is final arbiter, ensuring the chosen areas are not too broad.

The Captor character gets to choose why they took hostages. The GM and player playing the Captor work together to set this up in secret. Like all good movie hostage situations, this reason will be revealed at some point for dramatic effect.

Gaming story style

The GM establishes a scene and the players take it in turns to narrate what they are doing. Scenes can be proposed by players too. This continues until a character performs an action that can be opposed by another character. This is called a decision point. Actions are resolved by rolling 3D6.

Choose the relevant action statistic and pick up that many D6s. You then add one die for Resolve and one for Patience. Roll them all. Choose the highest die and add modifiers. Highest score wins. If rolling against a non-player then 6 or more progresses the story in the character's favour (player narrates). Less than 6 and the GM gets to choose. Wounding is descriptive with a modifier to future actions.

The Patience and Resolve dice need to be coloured differently. If you roll 1 on one of these dice, the relevant score decreases by one. This is how you run out of Patience or Resolve. That's exceptionally neat.

Are we in a relationship?

Sympathy is a statistic that charts how characters feel toward each other between +2 and -2. Sympathy is used to modify checks. If you have negative Sympathy for the Captor and perform an action against them, you get a bonus. I like the idea but getting my brain round the positive/negative strength took a while. Using Twists, Siege allows you to change roles halfway through the game. Brilliant.

When a character runs out of Patience, they can only make Action tests (lost their wits) and when they run out of Resolve, their next scene must be their last. Bleeding resolve will force the game to end through narrative. Tracking Patience and Resolve in this way brings the game to life.


The game is well written throughout, although the language at times is a little "happy-jolly" for the subject matter, I would keep it grittier. I would opt for a smaller font, two columns and a narrower margin. This would considerably reduce the page count, and shorter line lengths will make it easier to read. I would move the page numbers to the middle (no need for facing pages as there is no spine-friendly background). I would put rules in boxes to make them easier to refer to.

The credited imagery is very well chosen (a superb front cover), I would perhaps use smaller images and let text flow around them. The examples are well labelled as such (being indented) but I would like to see some more of them - especially around basic actions and the end-game. As the GM is used as a final source of ideas in many cases, I would include a bunch of inspiration lists. Andrew has done this for "Why take hostages" and it works brilliantly.


Siege is crafted to be an intense experience for players with their serious heads on. The core novel mechanics of Patience and Resolve ultimately drive the story. Siege is a blank canvas for the GM to seed ideas for the team, so preparation is required. It's a one-shot that should be savored. A single lamp in a dark room, a soundtrack of crickets and then dig deep to find your own moral compass. You might get flashbacks from it days after but then that's what makes it worthwhile.


Anonymous said...

I've played Siege with Andrew and a few mates. It's an incredible game and I highly recommend everyone try it. And try it a few times so you can have a turn at being the captor, hostage and the police.

Rob Lang said...

Thanks for the comment! It's great to have some actual play feedback. It's a very good idea to try it a few times so that you can get the feel for each role. Are you still having flashbacks?