Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Game session postmortem #1

So we had our first actual 'play' session for my new campaign. For myself, it felt like a bit of a rocky takeoff but soared after that. Like any book, movie or composition of music, the beginning is the hardest part. To quote one of my favorite novels: "A beginning is the time for taking the most delicate care that the balances are correct."

And it all started with a McGuffin.

One of the players has this artifact. Something that by his own definition was ‘dangerous and incredibly valuable’ and ‘he was keeping it to protect others.’ The “glowing ball of doom” as the other players started calling it and how the PC came into possession of it became the focus of the entire game session.

I had originally planned the first game session to test a number of the conflict systems I had drafted into the system; how to handle chases, fights, arguments, etc. I had 3x5 note cards with roughed out antagonists, numbers to roll for and against, etc. Since the player with the McGuffin had the most immediate character ‘hook,’ we started rolling against his investigative skills to see what he could learn about the doohickey. Two close-shaves later, he realized that he wasn't going to get anywhere without the help of the other characters, and so roped them into a scheme to acquire the materials and tools necessary to safely explore further. The potential for profit based on being the first group to understand and perhaps harness what the McGuffin represented got the rest of the party involved.

I will hand it to the other players: they immediately took to the open-ended challenge. Asking questions, devising their own understanding of how the world worked and what the steps they could take were. The tick on my end was to answer their questions halfway: I’d give them information, but not answers; what they needed to ask more questions, which in turn helped them to decide what actions to take to pursue those answers.

i.e. Q: There were six people who went with that PC on the mission where he found the McGuffin… where are they and why aren't they involved? A: They aren't involved because… they’re all dead or in comas after ‘the incident.’

One of my fears of being out of practice was that I wouldn't be fast enough on my feet to deal with questions and actions taken by the players. Since this game session was almost entirely narrative in its content, there weren't any opportunities where being unprepared with system mechanics to become a problem.

I did, however, learn a few things about being prepared.

One: NPC names. I’m horrible with names. So far the named NPCs are “Dr. Bob” and “Burke”, the company man (yes, after Paul Riser’s character from Aliens, and yes, pretty much the same character). Names have power: who are you going to remember better? “Dr. Bob” or “Alejandro ‘The Spider’ Wing-Chen”? In a massively multicultural setting like Eclipse Phase, names can be real ethnic mashups. Not to mention monikers for AI’s, uplifts and so on. To that end, I updated my copy of Inspiration Pad, and wrote a little script to generate mixed-ethnicity names on the fly for me. Some I will pre-generate and keep in a list. Need a name? Take one and scratch it off. I hope to also keep the generator script on hand next time so I can make more as needed. Also for that end, I’m working on scripts for generating details about habitats, corporations, ‘factions’ and so on.

Two: Have stock challenges prepared. The 3x5 card concept seemed to work well; there’s room to write the particulars of that challenge (dice to roll, numbers to beat, etc), but also space to track progress against that challenge (if it takes multiple rolls, hits and so on). Things like bypassing a door lock, base ‘goons’ should the PC’s get into a fight, etc.

And speaking of mechanical challenges: I will probably have to take a serious look at my conflict systems for TURK. My original concepts had detailed sub-systems for arguments, duels, firefights, chases and ‘projects’ for anything else. However Players generally aren't conscious about the system and are more focused on the context of those conflicts. Thus, simpler is better.

Ideally there should be one dice mechanic and one or two models for adjudicating conflict. FATE has three models: Challenges (character vs fixed obstacles), Contests between actors (debates, chases, races) and Conflicts between actors (arguments, duels, firefights, wars). Perhaps that could work for TURK?

Something to ponder further (and in future posts).

So to sum up: it was a good session. The next session will start from where we left off, so no problems getting the ball rolling, so to speak. I also have several ‘homework’ items to provide the players (information they sent requests for and I said I would get it to them later since what they wanted to know wasn't immediately crucial). The story is afoot, and we will see where it takes us!

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