Table News, 7 Aug 2018

Not much to report just now.

Work continues on Sea Dogs for the Olympus Group (Saturday). Technically, I should have been starting it already, but there was a bit of a communication hiccup that resulted in my delaying the campaign until the next in the round. It is my intention to start posting some rules and mechanics I’m planning to use, in case someone else can benefit from it. If I manage to self-motivate in that direction, I will likely be exceeding my usual once a month-or-two posting pace (which will happen anyway once the campaign starts). I’m still pretty excited about this one.

I haven’t given GMing for the Core Group (Friday) much thought in quite a while. Things have been progressing in stutters there. That said, I’m still expecting to run Autoduel at some point in the future, I just couldn’t say when.

Introduction to Sea Dogs

History

This campaign has some deep roots, though it is only just now pushing up through the surface. I have some notes dating back to 2004. The idea at that time was a more-or-less traditional “pirate” game, influenced greatly by the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie; a loose-story/sandbox in a mythic-historical Age-of-Sail setting (around 1660-ish). It would feature some elements from the “flashbacks” in Fortune Hunters, which I (mostly) ran in 2001, though more of a retelling than a direct prequel. It was more of a “concept” than an actual campaign attempt; little more than a handful of collected ideas. I never announced it, and never had characters created. The opportunity never really materialized. But the desire to see it done one day never really faded, as this is a favorite genre of mine, and I thoroughly enjoy(ed) doing the research.

Recently, some at the Olympus (Saturday) group were looking for some Fantasy stuff, but I didn’t necessarily want to jump back into Legends of Generica, and on a whim, I pitched the Age-of-Sail idea. I was surprised when I weighed anchor that the fresh breeze of player interest filled the sails of effort, and we began to pick up headway almost immediately. With the current Traveller campaign end in sight, I rode the tide-current of opportunity out of the harbor, with a firm hand on the tiller.

Campaign Overview

Like its predecessor, this campaign is intended as a sandbox—basically an Age-of-Sail Traveller game—and I’m trying for a 12-session first run. I decided to stick with “realistic,” rather than the “cinematic” leanings we’ve used of late, mostly because I find a reality-check is easier to adjudicate. But being a part of the Daniverse setting also means a World of Darkness core, so it will definitely feature the supernatural. I’ve worked in most of the (admittedly, sparse) original material. My plan is to make this campaign mostly out of player-generated content, and do a bare-minimum of GM guidance in the PCs’ in-game affairs; my intent is to drop interruptions in their self-chosen path rather than guide them to a path of my own design. A pool of additional (crew) NPCs with a mobile base-of-operations also makes it easier to swap PCs in and out when a player comes up absent for some reason, providing I can end the sessions at or near the ship.

In the interest of keeping things player-generated, I started a series of question-and-answer posts on the boards regarding the starting conditions. The players decided where the campaign would start, at what date, how they acquired the new ship, how they arrived at that point together, and the nature of their association. In addition, I required all PCs to have what I am referring to as a “Treasure Map.” It didn’t need to be an actual treasure map, just a plot/goal of some kind that they would be seeking out, individually. My goal was to make whatever comes first/next more of a “multiple-choice.” Additionally, I steered them away from having a single character as an authority-figure they would be deferring to for decision-making (which has taken some effort to sort out, given the fact that one of them would inevitably be “captain”), including any sort of “quest-giver” Patron.

I decided to go with a low-level start (originally 150pts, later bumped to 175 at players’ request). I gave them a ship to start with, a very small and weakly-armed ketch (based on the HBC Nonsuch). As we started working out the characters, it started to develop into a very “British” party, and I decided to push that a little further by allowing Brave as a campaign Perk for English characters who behave in a properly-British manner. The party we ended up with is a bit quirky and unusual, but I’m happy with it.

Some additional notes:

  • I’m okay with the Mass Combat rules in general, but I wanted something a little crunchier than that for ship combat. There are plenty of related Age-of-Sail board games, and as I encountered it, I decided to use Don’t Give Up the Ship!. It’s really simple, but gets the feel across, and has enough room for some GURPSification.
  • We recently decided as a group that, although there’s nothing wrong with the idea of Plot Points, we’ve lost a bit of the usual fear-of-death as a result (partially or fully). We’re going to try this campaign without them, or at least, the general-purpose variety.
  • I’ve been leaning toward using D&D 5e’s Skill Challenges in GURPS. I plan to use them a lot in this campaign, subject to change if it sucks for some reason.
  • I’ve been influenced quite a bit by Night’s Black Agents. I thought some elements of that might be applicable in this campaign. I have re-skinned my Relationships mechanic to imitate NBA’s “Trust.” I also wanted to work in NBA’s “Stability”—long sea-journeys and their difficulties can often result in madness to some degree. That required something new. Fortunately, there’s Pyramid 3/103, “Mad as Bones” (pp. 4-9) by Christopher Rice, which covers it quite well.

I expect I’ll be doing the same thing as Generica with regard to my blogging of the campaign. That is, I’ll leave the recording of the players’ side on the Olympus blog, and record my GM behind-the-scenes stuff here.

Table News, 3 Jun 2018

It’s been a while. Meh. No excuse, really. As usual, things have changed

Not much in the way of news for the Friday (Core Group) team. There has not been a great deal of progress on preparations for the Autoduel campaign for the Friday (Core Group) team. I don’t have a specific schedule to begin, so I’m not sure when it will occur, but I know it won’t be for a while, at least—a couple of other campaigns ahead in the queue. We are supposed to do a bit more Car Wars this week, though, due to some absences.

For a number of reasons, I decided against Generica for my next offering for the Saturday (Olympus) group. Instead, I successfully pitched a full-size campaign of Sea Dogs. This will be unrelated to the previous one-shot. It’s actually supposed to be next in the GMing queue, so it should debut within the next couple of months. I’ll post a full introduction to the campaign in the near future. But for now, I’ll say that it is meant to be a sandbox/open-world with minimal GM “leading,” and will be (only) the second official Daniverse campaign for this group (after The Crusade). Preparations are going pretty well so far, and I’m fairly confident.

Table News, 5 Feb 2018

“Crime and politics, little girl. The situation is always…fluid.”—Badger, Firefly

The Friday (Core Group) group wasn’t making a great deal of progress toward a playable Terra Nova campaign, though it was making some. We had a few more weeks to fill after the start of the year before the next GM was in a position to take over. With nobody else ready to fill in, I said “To hell with it” and offered to ref some Car Wars, as it would take very little prep to set up, and should scratch the itch well enough between “real” RPG campaigns. It would be the first time in well over a decade for me, and the first time ever for most of the players.

They liked it. They liked it so much they demanded more. I suggested maybe we should look into my GURPS Autoduel campaign—it was number two in the “what’s next” poll, after all, and it would use Car Wars mostly as-is for the vehicle combat. They agreed.

So, my Friday GMing efforts have now shifted from Terra Nova to Autoduel. As before, I’m pushing to get enough work done to actually be able to run something on a moment’s notice, but in this case, I only need enough for some “campaign-relevant” Car Wars content, so it should be a little easier. But ultimately, this means more characters/campaign-setup discussions, so I’m not under any illusions about how soon that will occur. The next time we have need, I can just run a bit of as-is Car Wars, at least, so that’s something.

I really haven’t given the Saturday (Olympus) situation much thought lately, except that the release of Dungeon Fantasy RPG has been followed by some campaign material that I may be able to make use of for Legends of Generica, so I’m planning to pick it up. If I can use it more-or-less as-is, I’ll have content ready for the next opportunity.

Table News, 8 Jan 2018

I ran two campaigns last year, which is a lot for me, usually. But the end of the year always screws up our gaming schedules, and this (last) year’s was no exception.

The Core Group (Friday, face-to-face) suffered the worst. We barely played at all for the last couple of months, due to many absences, both planned and unplanned. One of the members will be on hiatus for some undeterminable amount of time; another also has the potential to be out for half the year. We determined that we needed to retool our campaign queue to better deal with the inevitable absences. For my part, I’m now working on Terra Nova again, though it’s too under-cooked to start up right away. I’ll continue to spare a brain-cycle for S³M when I can, but I don’t expect that one to happen this year.

The Olympus (Saturday, online) group is past the end-of-the-year hiccups and moving along now. There’s a possibly long run of Traveller about to start. We also have plenty of other stuff in the queue. I don’t expect to run a “full” campaign for a while. But I’m working on prepping some one-shots of Legends of Generica for emergencies…or I mean to be.

I’ve been pretty unmotivated of late, truth be told. I haven’t gotten much work done, and there’s plenty needed. I am trying to snap out of it—I expect to eventually succeed. There’s certainly the potential for an interesting year for me behind the screen.

FGLE Chapter I, GM Retrospective

How Did It Go?

Overall, I felt pretty positive about this adventure. I felt comfortable behind the screen, throughout, for the most part. I didn’t have to struggle with the players to get them from Point-A to Point-B. There were some missteps along the way, but I think I learned from them, so the experience wasn’t wasted.

Things That I Felt Had Gone Well
  • I did quite a lot of worldbuilding for this campaign, and it didn’t go to waste. I had specific pieces of information I wanted to impart, and other than the accidental skipping of the herald at the beginning, I managed to hit all the high points I intended. My preparations helped give the world a solid, not squishy feel.
  • I’m getting better at improvisation. I was following YouTube advice to never say “I don’t know,” which meant being prepared for improvisation (if that’s possible), and I can’t think of an instance where it failed me.
  • I felt like the humorous tone worked and was well-received. I was worried the “Is that all of you?” running-joke had gone unnoticed until someone finally commented during the last session.
  • I consider the experiment of using a hidden, communal pool of Plot Points to have been a success. Though they didn’t end up using half of the pool, we didn’t end up with the usual of one or two players burning through them all while the rest hoard them.
Things That I Felt Had Gone Less Well
  • The Paragon/Renegade mechanic was intended to be used, but the players forgot about it. I intentionally didn’t prompt them, either—it really needs to be the player’s idea, not mine. I wasn’t sure the mechanic was a good fit anyway, and since it didn’t get used, I’ll just drop it from now on. No big deal.
  • I was disappointed with the way the players didn’t seem to fully engage with the world in some instances. I have mentioned before how, when giving out mission information, I had intentionally left out details so as to encourage interaction, but questions weren’t asked (much). But there is also the matter of the ride-along NPC, Aidin, who had a backstory and all, but none of the players/characters ever bothered to engage with him in any meaningful way. One would be justified in blaming the players for an atypical lack of PC-curiosity, but the GM does share that blame for failing to provide enough reason to engage. Sadly, I have neither explanation nor remedy at the moment.
  • Players “going passive” is a peeve of mine as GM. They’ll sit idle until the GM spoon-feeds them the next plot-point or mindlessly follow whichever player will speak up. Sometimes a player that is normally a “contributor” will clam up for no apparent reason—I’ve caught myself doing it as player from time to time. It’s an old issue that every GM has to deal with, and I’ve learned to live with it over the years. More recently, I’ve been heeding online advice to avoid attempting to “correct” it, as it’s just how some folks enjoy the game. Overall, it wasn’t a big problem in this adventure, but it did happen occasionally, and it bugged me when it did. I wouldn’t even bring it up, but I’m beginning an effort to understand why it happens, and maybe figure out what those players need in that moment to get them to re-engage.
  • I’ve always had a problem with running large groups. Even with only six (my usual maximum) here, there were instances where I noticed a player would be typing his “story” in chat, but it was ultimately lost to the lengthy verbal discussion going on at the time. I was fortunate in this case that a couple of our players took a break, or the group would have been even bigger—next time, this may not be the case.
Things That I Need To Get Better At
  • I usually enjoy when a player wants to do something crazy; I try to encourage out-of-the-box thinking. But my neurotic nature causes me to point out all the ways it can’t work; I have an unconscious tendency to shoot it down. Following online advice, I’ve been trying to say “Yes” or “Yes, but…” rather than “No” as often as possible. I don’t think I quite got there, but I was trying.
  • I caught myself trying to prevent a PC from accomplishing this-or-that on an occasion or two (in some cases, with no valid reason I could determine afterward). This goes along with the “wanting” problem I was dealing with in the latter half of the adventure, which I detailed at length in another post already. Lesson learned, hopefully.
  • Another bit of online advice I was attempting to follow is to never tell the player what their character thinks or does. The “right” thing to do is to give them the facts and conditions and let the player announce the character’s reaction. I have to fight this sometimes; it’s harder than it sounds. It’s only a minor point, but it still needs work.
  • I’ve said before (offline, at least) that nearly every disagreement at the table is the result of some sort of miscommunication. So I use a lot of images. It gets everyone on the same page regarding what’s there or not, especially for combat/action scenes where those details become more important. Even so, there were instances where I left out key information the players needed to make proper decisions until late in the process. I need to make a better effort to pause the action and describe all the particulars, especially as they relate to decision-points of the encounter, before the PCs commit to their actions. On a similar note, we’ve had differing opinions about appropriate “cinematic” behaviors, and a lack of prior agreement results in occasional actions that I have to say “No” to. It’s surprisingly difficult to communicate what should be allowed or not, but that discussion is something that needs to occur, before the game (not in the middle of combat).
  • Player agency has always been a goal of mine as designer of an adventure or campaign, hence my usual focus on “sandbox” mechanics, or “emergent” stories at least. As a part of that focus, my intention was to place the major NPCs into the world, and give them motivations to pursue, rather than a script to follow. This really didn’t come up until the latter half of the adventure—the townies and mercs were mostly unscripted. I suppose the idea worked out, but I don’t know if this limited run is really the best example of its efficacy. Next time should be the real test.
In the Future

My expectation is that it will be quite a while before my (full-length) turn behind the screen will come up again. This campaign might be ideal for a one-shot here and there, though. Additionally, the Core Group is going to be playing a remastered version of Return to the Keep on the Borderlands in Generica setting, which I expect to give me more bits to fill out as it goes along, while I try to spare a brain-cycle or two for the next series.

FGLE Chp I:VI, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

Dénouement

There wasn’t a lot to accomplish in this session, knowing it was the wind-down for the adventure. It went according to plan, for the most part. Other than the potential duel, I avoided any crunchy encounters or combat; it was mostly just narrative.

  • Bearing the last session in mind, I recognized beforehand that I really “wanted” the PCs to have the conversation with the mercenary commander. It was important exposition about the world, and the political situation. I had to make some adjustments to the plan to keep from painting myself into a corner again. My chief concern was typically-aggressive PCs shooting him in the face before he got to say anything. My saving grace came in the form of his knowing they were coming—both magically, and based on Marthyn’s and other incoming soldiers’ testimonies—which led to the “white flag.” He had some magical defenses in place in case they didn’t play along.
  • In the first session, I lampshaded a potential duel-challenge for the lives of the prisoners through Aidin’s exposition, but when the opportunity presented, I wasn’t going to remind Dustan’s player—it needed to be his idea. I think the exposition was too far back, though, and he had forgotten about it by this point. Plus, there was a bit of confusion regarding the commander’s capabilities based on my description—the player got the impression that the rod he was wearing was a powerful magic item, not just his “focus,” and decided it was best not to cross him. I did a fair amount of spell-related brainstorming for the duel and I didn’t get to use it. It’s too bad, but I can always save that for later.
  • The council meeting in Northelderland was a second chance to get the PCs involved in politics, and set up the potential for a Patron or alternative to the Heroes’ Guild.
  • Since Maykew’s player had purchased “Waygon” (the donkey) as an Ally early in the adventure, I decided those points spent would represent “trade” for its purchase from the innkeep—for example, Trading Points for Cash—but the player’s in-game choice was better, and in-character. The “llama” thing was a hilarious surprise, though—it’ll be good for some laughs in the future.
  • All PCs were granted Rank 1 for free—promoted out of Initiate of the Guild. The Coins they earned will be good for future “favors” by the Guild. The original plan was to also give out a block of general-purpose CPs at the end of the adventure, but I decided, late, to defer those until the beginning of the next adventure.
  • I was concerned the loot take-home would be too little, but it turned out better than I expected. Even so, it will only cover Cost of Living for a month or so (or less, for the higher Status characters). I’m still not certain how best to handle loot without having every bad guy in the realm carry his life savings in a belt-pouch. The rule-of-thumb I remember is that it should generally be enough to continue operating, covering Cost of Living and recovery of expended supplies, until the next outing.
Post-Game Player Debrief

After the adventure was over, I kept everyone online to discuss the eventual continuation of the campaign while I still had their attention.

  • I wanted to shoot for a more “sandbox/hex-crawl” type of campaign, but the group seemed to lean a little less that direction—more “multiple-choice/branching-path” type, instead. Close enough.
  • We’ve got potential recurrences of Aidin, Mallus the Clever, and the court of Northelderland. The players didn’t want to take advantage of the Arl’s offer of employment just yet, though that may be a thing further down the road. He can be expected to request the aid of the Company of the Bere later.
  • The players also weren’t interested in “realm management” for the time being. That’s fine. I’d still like to incorporate that sort of thing eventually—get into more of the Crusader Kings stuff—but it’s not a big deal right now. They need to build up a bit first, anyway.

Side note: This adventure marks the first time in a quarter-century of my GMing that I’ve had six back-to-back sessions with no absences and no breaks. Just lucky, I guess.

See the next blog post for my overall post-adventure thoughts and lessons learned.

FGLE Chp I:V, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

A Cautionary Tale

This session began with a big fight for which I had prepared a great deal…but, it seems, not enough for what the players would end up actually doing.

What I Had Planned

It was to be a tough fight, on the surface. Trained, battle-experienced mercenaries: 12× Halberdiers, 8× Crossbows, 8× Pavisers (shield-bearers). Almost 4× the PCs’ numbers. The bridge was 4yds wide, which let the halberds advance in three ranks of four, with Reach 3. The mercs had Combat Reflexes, ST12 (which was 1pt under Min ST for the halberd, as it turned out, so “chopping” attacks were less accurate), the Teamwork Perk, and Crossbow Finesse (to pull ST14). The PCs would have to close through 3 reach-attacks to get into range to fight back. This is pretty standard fare for late-period Medieval to early-Renaissance armies. Normally they would probably be using pikes here, but this was a mobile, flanking unit—I figured the pikes would be a bit too heavy for that.

The PCs had a number of advantages, though. The mercs were as lightly armored as before, in layered cloth (with plate bascinets). The PCs had magic—I was expecting Dustan to use Windstorm or somesuch to frustrate the formation, which would have been devastating on its own. Plus the PCs had Plot Points, Extra Effort, and plain-old PC ingenuity. I knew in advance that Lëodan would be on the mercs’ side of the river in hiding, to pop up and start shooting them in the backs—the pavisers would fall back to cover the crossbows to the rear, which would engage the hidden archer(s), but that meant they wouldn’t be bothering the melée fighters. I was, frankly, worried the PCs would wipe the floor with them.

Aside from knowing about Lëodan, I had given the players the opportunity to sort out their tactics on the forum during the week. There was talk of gathering some hay-bales or equivalent to hide behind.

What Actually Happened

When the session got under way, it all came unraveled.

The players immediately deviated from the previously-discussed plan. Now there was a new one that involved a barricade made of miscellaneous stuff piled up, including a wagon, in the middle of the bridge. Of course, I had no idea how long it should take to construct such a thing, but it presented a bigger problem: the mercs would see this and, logically, refuse to go near such an obvious trap—in the modern Army, they would probably have called for the engineers to come breach the obstacle. Furthermore, the PCs on the bridge weren’t really hiding, but taking cover, making it also obvious that the obstacle was under guard. I had already established that fording/swimming the river was a no-go, and that going around would involve many hours of travel to rejoin the army. They had little option but to try to tear down the barricade and press through. (Again—how long?) Plus, whatever they did at the bridge would leave them completely vulnerable to a hidden Elvish archer to the rear, who would, Legolas-like, pick them off one-by-one until their morale completely broke. It was check-mate. But this fight was supposed to take up the whole session, beyond which I had minimally prepared. I was left with the choice of the mercs’ behaving illogically and getting massacred in an unnecessarily-messy combat sequence or ending the session several hours short. It seriously threw me off my rhythm—total brain-lock.

After taking an intermission to think it over, I still had no better ideas. I ended up going through the motions in a semi-narrative fashion, and took the mercs through the least-bad option. They attempted to tear down the barricade, got harassed by archer-fire, and eventually retreated after taking too many losses. I had the PCs make some attack rolls and such, but I didn’t bother tracking HP, or movement points, or specific timing. The melée-focused PCs didn’t even get involved. They won the day, though for me, at least, it felt…unearned—very unsatisfying. The players didn’t quite see it as the catastrophe I did—almost always the case. (See below.)

Lessons Learned

It wasn’t all that long after the session had ended that I realized where it had all gone wrong. I wanted that fight to occur. I expected that fight to occur. (You might recall my previous caution against “assumptions.”) As a result, I put a lot of thought into the tactics and conditions, with little thought for the idea that it might not occur at all.. Were it not for that “desire” I would have had an alternative plan ready. I realized this very issue had bitten me multiple times already in this campaign so far, and was about to happen again in the next session.

Lesson: when you review your GMing plans, make note of any time you find yourself “wanting” something to happen and fix it. It’ll be easy to spot: you’ve probably put a disproportionate amount of effort into it. Any time the players say, after the game, that they, “felt like they didn’t have a choice” or “felt railroaded,” it’s because the GM wanted something to happen and forced the situation.

I didn’t have this problem quite so much in the early part of the adventure, because the a-b-c progression was fairly easy to follow. Go there, get info. Go there, get more info. But when the adventure reached the parts where that linear nature gave way, I started running into these little “losses of control”—and I hate losing control. This has been a problem for me since my first GMing attempt. I’ve had to re-learn this lesson over and over, but somehow it always creeps back in. It’s insidious.

I’ve been at this long enough that I, at least, didn’t try to force the direct confrontation. I have used a technique in the past of giving out a Plot Point, XP, or whatever, as a reward for “playing along”—I’ve done this specifically for “total party capture” situations, and it does work, but I don’t think it’s always the best solution. It was also later suggested that I could have started the session in media res, with the fight already in progress, which can also sometimes work, but is also less than ideal. You should never take away player agency.

Much later, it occurred to me that what I should have done was to give the mercs a Tactics roll. If they failed (which is quite possible—Tactics is a Hard skill, and they were of merely average intelligence), they would blunder into the trap. If they really borked the roll, they might even try to climb over the obstacle like complete fools. If were to make this roll known to the players, they could use Plot Points to force that failure. The dice would then have mercifully relieved me of my “logical objection,” though it would certainly have led to quite a mess. I suppose that’s Lesson 2 here: if the problem is that “they wouldn’t do that,” give them a chance to fail.

Ironic Counter-Perspective

As it happens, just a week prior, Ser Kenrick’s player had experienced the same sort of GMing catastrophe, for essentially the same reasons. I was a player in that one. Although I detected that something was a little off, I really didn’t see it as the disaster he declared it to be afterward. After coming to understand my own disaster, I see now that the players had no connection to the behind-the-screen drama besetting me, so of course, they didn’t react the way I did. Some comfort there, at least.

FGLE Chp I:IV, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

Lost in the Woods

GM Confidence: 3/5. It started a bit rough, though it ended well enough. The session reached the point where the adventure was a bit under-cooked, and I felt like it was starting to show.

Lëodan’s Last of the Mohicans Moment

Lëodan needed some proper spotlight time for the adventure. His running off on his own to track the enemy to its lair was the perfect opportunity. But I wanted to give it a little more substance than making a couple of rolls, dropping some clues, and moving on, like I expect one normally would.

  • I worked out a schedule for the day for all parties, including Mother Nature. He started around 02:00, still under a new moon, plus the thick fog. With his Night Vision 5, he wasn’t too bothered about the darkness.
  • I decided to front-load most of the die-rolls and crunchy bits, and describe the results without interruption afterward. I felt like that worked out.
  • I had expected the other PCs to get straight to the inevitable interrogation of their prisoners after last session’s fight. They didn’t (partly due to a misunderstanding about what languages they spoke, but the characters were also very tired). Were it otherwise, I had planned to swap the point-of-view back and forth between Lëodan’s and the interrogators’ matching discoveries. I wonder now if it would have been too confusing.
  • To get the other players involved in this solo outing, I had them come up with some obstacle for Lëodan to overcome as he ran. This was okay in theory, but I wasn’t quite prepared for what they might suggest, and it threw me out of rhythm, so I didn’t keep it up.
  • The rain was the result of a tarot draw: Sun, reversed—a loss of clarity; supported by Eight of Rods/Wands—a sudden onset. I gave him a Weather Sense roll before setting out, which he failed, so he wasn’t able to take any precautions. I figure being soaked like that in the cold should make one susceptible to catching a cold or something, but I didn’t find a rule for it, so I ignored it. I didn’t want to pile on anyway. (I had to research how rain and fog interacts—I don’t think I’ve experienced that personally.)
  • He decided to track at full speed (taking the -5). I realized afterward that I didn’t actually figure in his FP loss for hours of running—but I don’t think that broke anything. The penalty also applied to his Stealth, which affected his quarry’s detection distance.
  • He failed several more rolls in the course of things that caught me off-guard. After all the mods were tallied, he failed the Tracking roll; -10% speed. It failed enough that he missed the misdirection at the stream. (A player came up with the “stream” to jump as an obstacle, so I combined it with the one I already had in mind.) He critically failed his Navigation roll. I decided he would get lost on the way back. But the player decided, late in the process, to start leaving “markers.” This made it impossible (to his thinking) to actually get lost, and I fumbled my explanation of how it didn’t work a bit. In retrospect, (a) I should have made him describe the specific sort of markers he was leaving, and/or (b) say he forgot entirely to leave them, as the manifestation of his critical failure. It worked out okay, in the end, but I’m reminded again of my old saying: don’t ask for a roll if you’re not prepared for it to fail.
  • The encounter with the scouts upon his eventual return to the village was actually coincidental. He just happened to be returning around the time the scouts had been scheduled to be in position. He critically succeeded his Stealth attempts to get closer. According to my pre-calculated spotting distances, he would be on top of them before they could either see or hear him. Some good luck, finally.
In other news…
  • I had planned for the last session to either end sooner or get farther along. Since it did neither, I needed to fill out a bit, lest we start a big battle in the middle of the session and not be able to finish on time. So, I had to pad things out a bit for this one. But we needed to end a bit early for Ronnke’s sake, as he had another game scheduled immediately after, so that helped.
  • “Planning” amongst the PCs, in my gaming experience, is usually a lengthy and involved (and sometimes, tedious) process. I’ve learned to leave the players plenty of room to do it when needed. The players didn’t immediately dive into it like I had expected, and I worried a bit that I wouldn’t be able to stretch things out. It sorted itself out, though.
  • I had a few good opportunities to play with Ser Magnus, one of which Ser Kenrick’s player set up nicely (without realizing).
  • The Lord-Vicar’s arrival was a bit of padding. I had intended to bring him in at the end of the battle or something, or perhaps earlier if they sent for the Arl’s aid. I did not intend to cast him; he was a side character they weren’t expected to interact with much. His new larger role warranted more detail, though—from the players’ reactions to his arrival, I’d say I choose well. He’s gonna be some fun to play.
  • Maykew’s player rolled his second success on his unknown father’s Secret. Hence the witness of Brother Rikall.

I managed to stretch things out just long enough. We ended on time, wrapping up with the arrival of the mercenary army and the reveal of the flanking element the PCs will be fighting next week.

FGLE Chp I:III, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

Contact with the Enemy

GM Confidence: 4.5/5. The adventure is now into less well-defined territory, naturally bringing with it feelings of unpreparedness, but I was satisfied with the overall results.

This session started with a big fight, and I knew it would eat up most of the session—and I was right. Some points-of-interest:

  • I didn’t have any grand tactical plan in mind for the “goblins” here. They were just going to creep in to the town, get bounced along the way, and after putting up a fight, fall back across the bridge. But they couldn’t see in the dark any better than the PCs, and as a result of the PCs’ letting them slip past, they got caught in the middle of the square with “unknown fighters” covering nearly all the possible exits. The PCs made an Intimidate attempt, resulting a fighting retreat on the bandits’ part. There was only one outlet, though, and in the course of trying to reposition themselves, they got caught in the back. They couldn’t make use of their superior numbers at all. It was a legitimate rout. There really wasn’t anything I could do. Well played, PCs.
  • The players finally started using some of their pool of Plot Points; one to give the first bonfire a kick in intensity, fixed a couple of bad rolls, and one for some cinematic behaviors on the part of the Elf.
  • I gave the bandits a “Will to Fight” score of 6. Essentially, that’s the number of turns of “losing” they would endure before deciding it wasn’t worth it anymore—and by losing, I mean taking more overall damage than they dished out. They didn’t make it that far before the matter was determined by the circumstances. None of the PCs were even touched.
  • The imagination of individual participants in an RPG is effectively impossible to “synchronize”—virtually every disagreement I’ve ever witnessed or participated in at the table has either been about rules, or a failure to communicate the terrain/conditions. I try to use images as often as I can, or reference some sort of shared experience—usually movies. In this session, there was some inevitable disagreement regarding who should be able to see/do what in the darkness—my understanding of how dark it was would inevitably differ from others’ and that’s really difficult to communicate without a visual reference. I don’t have a good solution for this just yet, but I continue to seek one. I did, at least, communicate the visibility conditions to the group on the message boards during the week, so it didn’t catch anyone by surprise—I know how irritating it is to discover these things at the last moment.
  • There was a similar dissonance regarding what constitutes an acceptable level of “cinematic behavior”—but without a well-defined “line,” how can one really say when one has crossed it? Also a work-in-progress.
  • Lëodan is a bit of a wild-card; due to the late introduction, I don’t really know the character well enough to predict potential behavior. I figured he’d be running around solo, and though I had in mind his running off immediately into the darkness on his own as a worst-case, I didn’t actually expect him to, and it caught me a little flat-footed. I think it will work out, though.

Gentleham, the NPG

See The Village Model

I’ve been using this model behind-the-scenes for a long time. It’s good for keeping NPC groups organized, and easier to manage than a relationships flowchart (a typical solution for the same thing) in my opinion. I haven’t had a great deal of opportunity to properly test its utility in-game yet, and here is another chance, in a bit less than “thorough” application. Here are some non-spoiler details:

Gentleham

S: Objective; D3; Char: Typical helpless Medieval townies

Tier1 Elements

Master Walder; DR/Bss
Concept: The Coward/Abandoner; hopeless downer

Tier2 Elements

Eldyr Simpelman; CR/Wiz
Tropes: Wasteland Elder
Concept: Tough old bird; seen it all—straight-shooter

Patron Sermyn; DP/Trb
Concept: The Pacifier/Capitulator; town’s peacemaker, total non-violent

So how does it work here? Mr. Walder is the only Tier1, so he’s going to end up as the PCs’ primary point-of-contact for getting things done in the village, and the one they have to convince to play along with their schemes. As “Destructive-Reactive” he’ll be passive, to the point of being a potential problem—PCs will have to encourage him to act. Ptn. Sermyn is “Destructive-Proactive” and the “Village Troublemaker”—his role is pretty easy to imagine. And Eldyr Simpelman is the voice-of-reason to balance Ptn. Sermyn’s shenaniganry—and knowing the players, the most-likely to be actually listened to.

The PCs have interacted with the townies only a little so far. Next session will probably be a better test.