When I kickstarted the game Star Crossed from Bully Pulpit Games, I got the chance to add a few interesting items from their catalog to my order. Among their games I saw an interesting gem called The Warren: “a tabletop role-playing game about intelligent rabbits trying to make the best of a world filled with hazards, predators and, worst of all, other rabbits.” Immediately wanting to know more, I added it and found it interesting and unique. I didn’t have time to review it when I got it but now that Netflix’s series Watership Down has started to show up in my feed, it reminded me that this is a game that deserves some attention.
The Warren is a Powered by the Apocalypse game inspired by books about rabbits like Watership Down and Fifteen Rabbits as well as an RPG from the 1970s called Bunnies & Burrows. It’s not necessarily a game about fuzzy widdle bunnies, or (if you’re familiar with Watership Down) about painful loss and gritty survivalism with rabbit characters. It’s a bit of both with a lot of flexibility to meet the different needs of play groups, including groups with kids.
Character Stats, Panic, and Scars
There are four stats in The Warren which encompass the whole of rabbitdom: Strong, Swift, Shrewd, and Steady. They are all pretty self-explanatory (except maybe for Steady which is not panicking) and they cover the gamut pretty well. As an aside, it’s visually nice to have alliteration in your game but it can also be confusing to players just starting the game. Beyond that, picking your stats is pretty simple, you just assign +2, +1, 0, and -1 as you like.
From these assigned stats you there’s the important “gauge” stat of Panic which is how jumpy you are. It starts at 0 and then ramping up as things get serious to a maximum of 5 plus your Steady score (so Steadier rabbits can withstand more Panic). When you max out on panic the GM decides what happens to your character: Fight (lashing out wildly at whatever is nearby), Flight (running in a blind panic), or Fright (freeze in place). Throughout a story your Panic will rise until you flip out and do one of those things. You can also gain Scars from things going badly which prevents you from making moves. More on that in a bit.
Basic Moves and Special Moves
Like most PbtA games there are some basic moves that will govern the majority of your rolls. All those rolls, by the way, are 2d6 (possibly with a Stat added) where you’re trying to roll at least a 7 and you do especially well when you roll 10 or higher. All characters have access to six basic moves that you’ll do all the time.
- Resist Panic is when you are exposed to danger and you don’t want to lose your head. You are fine on a 10+, keep it together but add +1 Panic on a 7-9, or add +1 Panic and take a GM move on a miss.
- Speak Plainly is the rabbit social move which means talking another animal (NPCs only) into something. On a 10+ they do what you want, on 7-9 they’re in but have demands, and on a miss they ignore you.
- Pay Attention is the move for asking questions from the GM. You get two questions on a 10+, one on a 7-9, and open yourself up to danger on a miss.
- Bolt when things go bad, this is the move to get the heck out of Dodge. On a 10+ you get away, on a 7-9 you run but something goes wrong (you pick), while on a miss you don’t make it.
- Sneak is how you prevent the need to Bolt or Resist Panic, staying hidden and creeping into Mr. McGregor’s garden (or whatever). There’s a list of benefits and you get three on a 10+, one on a 7-9, and none on a miss.
- Help/Hinder is a catch-all move for affecting other people’s rolls. On a 10+ you add +1 or -1 to someone’s roll, on a 7-9 you do the same but they’re roll now affects you, and on a miss you get bupkis.
Aside from these basic moves are the special moves (dun dun duuuun!) which are also moves for everyone but you can only make them when the story allows.
- Relax reduces Panic but it’s for downtime when you can play, groom, or rest.
- Struggle is when you’re stuck somewhere (including by a predator).
- Compete is when you… well compete with another character.
- Dig is when you… dig in the earth. I guess these mostly explain themselves.
- Mate is… ask your parents. Actually, this has a good callback to the X-Card (discussed in the beginning of the book) and having little rabbits kits is a good way to make backup characters (no joke, that’s sort of the point in real life too).
- Birth a Litter is for dealing with the consequences of the Mate move.
- Innovate is a move for doing something that no rabbit has done before like gathering food in your burrow, rescue pet rabbits, or fighting back against predators. Basically you make a new custom move with the GM that lasts the rest of the game.
- Time Goes By is for season-spanning montages to skip ahead. It’s a narrative roll to determine who dies and who’s born so that the Warren can develop a little.
- Retire is a move for when your rabbit is too beaten up or you just want to switch things up. Your rabbit sails into the West (or whatever rabbits do) and you make a new character.
- Advancement is a move for rabbits that are still young and hip to gain new moves and such.
Since I linked to a Geek Dad article above, it’s probably good to mention that there are notes throughout this book on playing with young players. This is one of those cases, where a sidebar provides some friendship-based moves to include if you don’t want a bunch of horny bunnies Mating through every downtime.
Unlike other PbtA games there are no playbooks in The Warren. Instead, you pick a single character move from a long list and make that your rabbit’s thing. Moves get picked one at a time and no rabbit can have the same move as another (even if you add moves to your rabbit through the Advancement special move). It might seem limiting but there are 31 different character moves in the book, so you’ve got plenty of options. Some of the character moves are a little mystical so they might not be for every game style.
To give you a sense of what the options are, here are a few example moves from the book.
- Cocky lets you boast about your future deeds and when you do it you can reduce your Panic later.
- Dull and Keen makes one of your senses dull and another one extra-sharp. You can’t use the Pay Attention move with your dull sense and you get the 10+ result for a 7+ roll with your sharp sense.
- Gilded Cage makes you cute and fluffy so when you encounter a human you can become a pet rabbit.
- Marked By the Black Rabbit is a cheat-death quality that lets you come back later in the story after a scene where you “apparently” died.
- Seer is for rabbit-diviners. Interestingly the players develop the vision and then the GM incorporates it into the plot, rather than the other way around.
- Squirmy allows you to use Swift instead of Strong with the Struggle move.
- Worrier lets you act as party psychiatrist, talking through things with other rabbits and move points from their Panic to your own.
The World and Gamemastering
There are so many different directions to take this story, from setting to future plans for the warren, and the book has a ton of different options for you to explore. There are many different predators and hazards in the book: dogs, foxes, hawks, hunters, snares, highways, kudzu, harvests, militaristic rabbits, and seasonal issues. There are also alternative notes on hares and pikas and how they differ from rabbits, as well as four pages of inspirational lists including characters from rabbit myths, locations in parks and mountains and farmlands, and predators for every continent except Antarctica.
There are GM moves, of course, which are similar to other PbtA games (including hard and soft moves) and two sample settings: Abingdon Meadow is a pastoral setting of farmland and hedgerows, while Bayou Dupré is a rougher stretch of swampland in Louisana. On the Bully Pulpit site there’s also free download of seven new worlds for your rabbits to live in: City Park is just what it sounds like, Sobat River is an Egyptian area riverland with a heavy dose of mysticism, Baliganapalli Fields is an area of South India between poor farmlands and a wild forest, the Painted Desert is an arid stretch of the American Southwest, Borealis Wood is a cold and mountainous area probably somewhere in Canada, Flowery Dream is an Aztec-heavy version of the Valley of Mexico, and Polygon Wood is intended as an historical setting set in (I think) Alsace Lorraine during the opening years of the First World War (good luck, bunnies).
This is a wonderful game for some groups. It’s flexible, dynamic, and I challenge you to look at all the lists of various traits and plots and not want to make yourself a rabbit or twelve. Looking at all the source material that this book is trying to emulate, every one is represented somewhere in this whole. The book is well-organized and straightforward, exactly the qualities you expect from the makers of Fiasco. It’s evocative and great for both one-shots and extended campaigns.
But your group may not be into it. One thing that could ruin a game of The Warren is someone who legitimately doesn’t want to play a rabbit. In a game of Eberron, players who aren’t excited by fantasy noir can just play more typical D&D fare and it won’t break the game. If you can’t get everyone on board with the strange transhuman world of Eclipse Phase you can play relatively normal people as well. In this, though, you need everyone comfortable with playing a game of all rabbits (or all hares or all pikas or whatever) and playing a game where characters will get hurt, die, and maybe even lose everything.
It won’t fit with every group but if it fits your group then it’s going to be an amazing experience.