the farm by Hostile V
WriteupOriginal SA post You awake in a strange place. A light flickers overhead. Your skin is cold. You hear the sounds of other people as they wake up. You smell sweat. The ringing in your ears begins to fade. Your head hurts. Your eyes soon grow accustomed to the darkness and vague shapes sharpen into focus. You stomach aches, as if you haven’t eaten for days. Your throat is dry.
You wear unfamiliar clothing. Gray pants and a gray shirt, both with a black stripe running down the side. What is this place? Someone coughs, clearing their throat. You hear footsteps from outside the room. Then, a knock on the door. A smiling man enters. He wears a gold-striped shirt and pants.
He speaks, and you realize where you are.
You’re at the Farm.
The Farm is a survival horror roleplaying game from 2004 with elements that are not suitable for all audiences. Read this post with caution or skip it if you're uncomfortable with kidnapping, torture and desperation. The book is 19 pages long and was written by Jared Sorenson.
Residents and their Stats
Players play as Residents. The Farm is best for up to 6 Residents and no more than 6; Residents are kept in groups of six. You have two stats and three skills under each stat. The Stamina stat has Athletics, Combat and Stealth. The Psyche stat has Knowledge, Perception and Willpower. The group has 48 points to divide up amongst your stats, 1 point per level. Your average Resident has Stamina 4 and Psyche 4 and has on average 8 points between both stats; change that and you have weak links in the group and people who are less likely to get out alive. You give your Skills a number of 1-6 with up to 2 skills sharing the same number. And that's it.
Whenever you need to roll a skill, you roll the amount of dice tied to a stat and need to get at least 1 result equal to the number of your skill. If you've got Stamina 5 and a 6 in Combat, you have 5 dice to roll and have to get at least one 6 as a result. One success is generally what's needed with multiple successes giving a better result. If you've got an appropriate tool (rake, hose, screwdriver) for a task, you get an automatic single success added to the final roll.
Roles within the group help Residents. At every meal, the Residents can agree to elect a Leader to the group or recall and assign a new Leader. The Leader is able to roll dice for Residents who choose to put their rolls in their hands, combining all of the dice into a group pool. These people are called Followers and the Leader hands out specific dice results to the Followers and saves what's left for themselves (if they wish; the Leader doesn't have to give anyone anything). Loners are people who choose to not follow. However, Following is not without disadvantages. At any time before successes are doled out, one Resident can declare "I am a Pig" and demand all of the successes of a certain number (the Leader can't be the Pig). You can also choose to Loan your results to another player on a Loner roll and go into Skill Debt, meaning that you have to take a mandatory negative amount of successes on your next roll or declare yourself a Pig on another Follower roll.
Strain and Wounds are what lay you low on the Farm. Strain is mental trauma and exhaustion; every point of Strain drops your Psyche by 1 point temporarily to a maximum of 0. You can't go below 0 Psyche. Strain is resisted with a Willpower test and happens when you're involved in something traumatic. One success keeps your head above water and a failure means that you dip your Psyche 1 point. The only time you're immune to Psyche tests is when you're a Follower and told to do something by your Leader; you're only following orders.
Wounds deal damage to Stamina and each Wound drops Stamina by 1 point. Getting reduced to 0 Stamina means that you have to make a Psyche roll to stay conscious. If it goes below 0, you're at risk of dying, needing to make enough Willpower successes equal to your negative Stamina or die. Success puts you back at 0, meaning you either have to tough it out or someone has to get you medical attention. A B-Class Tender able to deliver medical attention can raise Stamina by 1 point for every 2 successes gained, but if they can't do it in one roll you're dead.
Torture is used to keep Residents in line and is often used as a punishment by Minders or Tenders. A torturer uses either Combat or Knowledge depending on how they want to try and hurt you. At least one Willpower success is needed to stave off breaking. If you roll multiple successes, each success reduces a torturer's success. If the torturer has any successes, take that much Strain. If the torturer has 0 successes, take 1 Wound. Nobody walks away unscathed. Everyone eventually breaks.
The Combat skill is used to fight and can either be countered with another Combat skill or by Dodging. Dodging used Athletics, with each defensive success reducing an opponent's Combat successes on a 1:1 basis down to the defender avoiding any harm. Using the Combat skill is counter-attacking, essentially leaning right into the attack to still hit them. If Countering, each of your successes deal 1 Wound to the enemy and each of their successes deals 1 Wound to you. If you get them to -1 Stamina, you take Strain instead of Wounds. If both fighters would be reduced to -1 Stamina, both fighters take Wounds instead of any Strain. Non-lethal fights just deal Strain instead with negative Psyche leading to Wounds instead in the same vein of countering.
Hit them hard enough to walk away from it and all you'll have to live with is the knowledge of what you did.
Stealth opposes Perception and vice-versa. Success on one reduces the successes of the opponent's attempts to hide or see what you're doing. You can use Stealth to hide things or people. 3+ successes on a Perception roll gives you an advantage in the form of Information. Information is a one-use tool that gives you an automatic success next time you use what you observed to your advantage.
You get back 1 Stamina point a day as long as you can rest and eat and have access to medical care. If you're at 0 or less Stamina, someone has to help you with a Knowledge check to get it up to 1 so you can continue to heal. Psyche heals at a rate of 3 points per day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And here's where the catch of being the Leader comes in: the Leader only recovers 1 Psyche a day at one meal. It's good to switch off being the Leader to take the burden and stress off.
Here's the most important part, however: healing is tied to food, food is tied to healing. This is your life as a Resident. If any of your feeding times are missed for any reason, you can't heal.
You have to establish how long the Residents have been at the Farm. A Resident is never at the Farm for longer than six weeks so a new Resident would start at the newest group, Group 6. For every week later you start, (Group 5, 4, 3) you give up a week of living for a Meal Token. Meal Tokens can be used to get extra food (and heal more Strain) or can be bartered with the staff of the Farm for illicit goods or services. This is risky; time cannot be refunded.
You're identified by your group, your number in the group and your name. Residents are not allowed to have last names. John 6-1 is the first person in Group 6. If someone has to leave the group, someone from a lower group with the same number will get Promoted up to fill the hole.
Promotions happen automatically on a weekly basis. Group 6 becomes Group 5. Group 1 is sent to Building 10.
What is the Farm?
The Farm, by default, is an isolated forest island in a temperate zone. It's the size of a small city and full of buildings. You can place the farm wherever (Polynesian paradise, frigid rock in the Baltic Sea, Indonesian micronation, a guarded compound in the Outback, space colony) but it should follow the following guidelines:
- 1: the Farm is in a secret location away from civilization.
- 2: the Headmasters are allowed to run the Farm or have not yet been discovered.
- 3: escape from the Farm is unlikely. Not impossible but very difficult to do. Nobody has escaped yet, no matter what the rumors are.
- 4: there is no access to the outside world to the Residents.
While you are at the Farm, you must follow the following rules.
- Attacking a Tender results in public flogging and loss of meal privileges.
- Eating meat is forbidden and punished with execution.
- You may only have personal belongings that have been given to you by a Tender. Everything else will be taken away from you.
- Failure to shower daily in the morning is punished with loss of meal privileges.
- Loss of 20% of body weight due to hunger strike is punished with mandatory Hospital treatment and the execution of a random Resident.
- Suicide attempts are punished with mandatory Hospital treatment and execution of a random Resident.
- Sexual activity is forbidden. If discovered, all of the Residents in the Groups of the guilty parties are publically stripped, restrained and flogged.
- Failure to wear fresh clothing/tend to dirty clothes at the Laundry Station is punished with mandatory work detail.
- The punishment for attempted escape is summary execution of the Resident who attempted to escape. Before execution, the guilty Resident must select another Resident to be executed with them. Failure to comply means that the entire Group of the guilty party will be executed with them. Pick someone else to die or you all die.
Places on the Farm
Dormitory is a series of six concrete bunkers with room for up to 216 Residents, maximum. Placement in your bunker is decided by your number. The beds are steel double bunks that are bolted to the walls and floors; there are no blankets. The lights are recessed into the ceilings and controlled automatically by the Headmasters and timers. Each room has a stainless steel toilet and a sink, both motion activated. There are no mirrors; every aspect of Dormitory has been designed to minimize possible weapons or items that can be used in suicide attempts. Showers are house in an adjacent building, the Shower Station. You get up when the lights are turned on, you sleep when you're told to.
Feeding Station is where you eat. You get three meals a day and all of the food is vegetarian/vegan; there is no meat or dairy allowed. Corn, soybeans, wheat flour, lentils and other fresh greens and fruits from Greenhouse are cultivated on-site for food. Utensils are not allowed so you eat with your hands. Seating depends on Resident number. Finally, every meal is capped off with a vitamin supplements.
Residents who are not part of work detail are allowed to exercise and relax at Gymnasium, monitored by the Minders. Swimming and group sports are popular activities. Gymnasium also provides books, paints, board games and other activities to keep good Residents entertained. A stress-free Resident is a happy Resident.
Belltower is an old church where the Headmasters stay. It's their base of operations. No Residents who have entered Belltower have ever come back alive.
Building 10 is where Group 1 goes when the six weeks are up. There are rumors that one door inside leads to freedom and the other leads to a slaughterhouse. What is known is that all Residents who go to Building 10 are killed and prepared for the Headmasters to eat them.
The purpose of the Farm is to cultivate organically-fed, happy Residents to be eaten. Stress and fear taints the meat. The purpose of the game The Farm is to escape before your six weeks are up.
To date, nobody has escaped The Farm. Nobody is sure if it's possible for a Group to do it, but maybe a single lucky, tenacious Resident could.
All NPCs are generally treated as having Athletics 1, Combat 2, Stealth 3, Knowledge 4, Perception 5 and Willpower 6. Their Psyche and Stamina vary depending on the type of NPC but together they generally add up to 8.
All Residents/prisoners/captives dress alike except for their numbers. All NPC Residents have Stamina 4 and Psyche 4 and the same skills as the PCs. Depending on their condition (hunger strike, wounded, over-exerted, terrified) their stats should be adjusted accordingly.
Tenders run the Farm in all of its operational capacities that require menial labor and upkeep. They do repairs, they serve food, they work the garden. You can tell the type of Tender by the clothes they wear.
- C-Class Tenders wear blue clothes with a green stripe. They keep the Farm running as generic labor. Psyche 4, Stamina 4.
- B-Class Tenders wear red with white stripes. They're doctors and medical professionals who staff Hospital and help the wounded. Psyche 5, Stamina 3.
- A-Class Tenders have two gold stripes on their clothes. They're guides to new Residents. They also act as the disciplinary hand of the Headmasters by means of doling out punishment or torture. Psyche 6, Stamina 2.
Minders are security guards. They're known for sadism, loyalty, strength and brutality. All Minders wear the same uniform: white coveralls, black boots, black gloves and a black apron. Each Minder wears a helmet that renders them faceless and provides a two-way radio, visor and respirator. The Residents call them Butcher Boys behind their backs and Minders don't have names; instead they have alphanumeric codes on their aprons and their helmets. Minders patrol in groups of 3+ on foot or in golf carts and reside in Armory, a secret building with high security. In addition to having intimidation in the form of numbers, they carry weapons for pacification (hard rubber truncheons, hand/foot restraints, cattle prods, bullwhips) but can also carry weapons to kill (12-gage shotguns, submachine guns, heavy assault rifles). Minders have Stamina 6 and Psyche 2 plus they have the Combat skill twice at 2 and 3 at the cost of being literally unable to use the Stealth skill. Minders are designed to be hard to tackle but likely the key to a successful escape; if they come in groups of three or more, imagine how many weapons you can get for your plan.
Headmasters control the Farm and rarely share similar personalities. Some are sadistic and hungry for the harvest. Some are cool and aloof. Some are soft-spoken and seem to be genuinely invested in the well-being of the care of the Residents. There are rumors that sometimes a Headmaster will hide in a Group of new Residents to study them and study the Farm's structure to figure out if anything needs to change or be improved. Headmasters are escorted by Minders, rarely meet one-on-one with a Resident and have unlisted stats. They don't come into contact with the Residents in that capacity and a good escape will involve staying away from them as best as you can.
Pray that someone in your Group is not an undercover Headmaster.
Everyone leaves the Farm. The only variable is how they do it. Budget your time, your meals, your shares of being leader. Be smart, be quiet, be quick. Work together and try to bolster weak links. A unified group is essential to escaping, even if there's no guarantee anyone will escape the Farm alive.
The Part Where I BlatherOriginal SA post
Y'know I was just gonna let this be a one-and-done type deal because the idea of doing a one-shot F&F review has always been a little seductive to me, but I feel like I focused a bit too much on sharing the game from a fluff perspective without actually looking deeper. So here's part two and a deeper look so I'm not just responding to every post.
The Part Where I Blather
The general thesis of the game is that greed gets you killed, from top down. There are elements there to betray and screw over the other prisoners or overexert yourself and deal with the consequences, but survival is based around cooperation and teamwork. hyphz makes a good point: being the Pig can be used safely and there's no point to screwing the other chharacters over. Ultimately it all feels like a bit of an extrapolation on the Prisoner's Dilemma. This is all stuff that isn't explicitly stated until the end:
"Is it even possible? I’d like to believe that it is. The alternative is too horrible to contemplate. But who knows? Perhaps a group could work together, plan an escape and free themselves from the Farm. But I don’t think so. Human beings don’t work that way. Maybe one person can make it.
If you go back and look at it with that in mind, the real thrust of the game is for the PCs to kind of have to figure out that they'll need to work together in order to survive. But they also have to do more than just "work together": they have to view themselves as assets and resources to be budgeted and carefully used. The 4/4 split of stats are a fair share of the Attribute points and make for more balanced groups with less weak links and more capability across the board to achieve your goals.
The game isn't just survival horror, it's more specifically a secret Resources Sim where you're the product. If you're familiar with late-game Darkest Dungeon, that's the realization I ultimately came to. Do I think it's impossible for a whole group to escape the Farm? No. Do I think it's going to be hard? Oh yeah, the key is to be very particular in what you do to rebel and escape.
In particular, if you want to escape the Farm, you cannot be a pig.
If you want to escape, you have to take care of yourself. You have to eat, you have to take a day to allow yourself to recover, you have to let yourself breathe. The system is rigged so that it's not that you're thriving within the system to subvert it, but you're drawing on what benefits you and taking calculated/advantageous risks. The rules of the Farm are designed to foster this sort of survival mindset that means everyone shoulders the weight of trauma and the horror but also allows themselves time to breathe and detox without getting too bogged down in vice. It's harmful for you to be the Leader for prolonged periods of time considering how Psyche damage is easier to get and fall into despair from. The longer you live in fear and panic and don't take care of yourself, the more things snowball and get worse and less can be accomplished.
Realizing this when I reread it in 2017, coincidentally, was the main reason I decided to cover this book.
Some general comments on the mechanics: I like the implicit facts in the case of combat and rebelling against the Minders. You need to scrounge or scavenge a weapon if you're going to attack a Minder because they have weapons which mean they get an automatic success in attacks. They also have 6 Stamina and 2 Combat skills which means on a single dice roll, that's a 1/3 to get a successful attack. Since they're rolling 6 dice, that means on average that a single attacking Minder will generate two successes.
However consider the fact that Minders are in minimum groups of 3, which means 6 successes, +3 from the fact that they all have weapons. That's 9 successes on average.
Now, there's something very important that gets mentioned kind of off-handedly in two different places. First, Minders are incapable of using the Stealth skill. That means that in a Stealth vs. Perception check, the Minder inherently cannot hide from a Resident. And if you get 3+ successes on a Perception roll, that's a weapon to use against the Minders. If you want to come out on top you need the following three things.
1: all six Residents need to be engaged against the group of Minders and they're probably going to need to have the Leader roll and dole out successes. The Residents targeted by the Minders are going to have to dodge and the rest should attack the Minders.
2: you need to have a weapon to negate that inherent success the Minder will get if you lean into the attack.
3: you need the advantage of that observation to give you an extra tool they can't take away from you.
In that same vein, as tempting as a Meal token is, it's really not worth it to cut the schedule short. The time is more important.
The main criticism was mentioned but I do agree: it's a little too setting light/what do we do? for my tastes. This is kinda par for the course of a Sorenson game and one of the main things that trips me up when I get too invested in his games. There's not really enough of a structure for the feel of play and time and kind of has a bit too much of "the GM should do the work" for me. I feel like the book could ultimately use another page or two or three to just give more structure and form to the setting and the game.
But ultimately I do like the Farm. It tickles the literary criticism part of my brain and gives me implicit stuff to discover and read deeper. I enjoy how compact the book it is and how it really does make the brevity work for it. And, again, reading it in 2017 was good for me because I realized some stuff I didn't really see the first time, namely that self-care is important and how it's impossible to rebel all the time but that's okay, it's ultimately just too self destructive and you snowball into deep harm too fast. And I think that's something important for everyone.
Well, that's all she wrote. Thanks for reading and commenting!