Table News, 3 Jun 2019

And the wheel keeps turning…

Due to one of the Olympus/Saturday players deciding to take a summer hiatus, I got a bit derailed. Now, instead of running Generica next, I’m going to be revisiting the After the End concept (previously a Core Group/Friday campaign) with a different “antagonist.” It won’t happen until the fall, most likely. As a proper Google Earth-powered “sandbox” like its predecessor, there won’t be a ton of pre-prep, so there’s nothing really standing in the way whenever the go-signal is given. I’m feeling pretty good about it right now. But there’s a fair amount of time between now and then, wherein anything can happen, so who knows? I expect the prep-work I did on Generica won’t go to waste, though; I had already discussed the idea of a concurrent campaign for Friday, and as I have nothing planned for Friday at the moment, that could become a thing.

Table News, 2 Apr 2019

It’s been rather longer than I intended since I last posted. Well, you haven’t really missed anything…

I’ve officially announced I’ll be running Generica after the current campaign on Saturdays—which doesn’t make it absolutely certain, but does increase the likelihood, at least. The only real change worth mentioning is that there’s been some discussion of running Generica on Fridays as well, in some form or another. At this point, it seems most likely it would be a separate concurrent storyline, centered on a different area of the kingdom, with maybe a little potential for some overlap. This one is, however, definitely not certain at the moment. Either way, I’ve been working steadily on the worldbuilding for Generica, and the basic skeleton of the Sat campaign is complete, minus a couple of extras I wanted to do for possible one-shots or filler/options. Running it on Friday as well means all that effort will pay off extra. So, it’s looking good, anyway.

Table News, 2 Jan 2019

I didn’t do much actual GMing in 2018, it seems, though I did a lot of work on various campaigns. Things keep shifting around.

For Olympus (Sat), I worked on Sea Dogs for a solid four months, and almost ran it, but it ended up being delayed for…reasons. I eventually tabled it in favor of the Supers campaign, Knight City Chronicles, after I ran a couple of one-shots (recordings available on Youtube: First, and Second), for which I never posted any behind-the-scenes stuff here as I had intended. (My dislike for blogging/journal-keeping has apparently not improved 😛 ) It looked like it was really picking up some steam until…reasons, again. Now I’ve restructured my intentions (and expectations) and moved on.

For the Core Group (Fri), we had a really long run of Pathfinder: Kingmaker that, along with the many “start-stop” interruptions along the way, took up most of the year. Toward the end of the year, we had a month or so of Star Trek before we ended up just taking a hiatus to close out the year.

The trend for me, of late, has been to enlist the players, more and more, in the campaign decision-making, but that hasn’t been working out like I wanted. Getting details for new characters and such has required a lot more arm-twisting than I’ve found I am willing to tolerate. That, combined with the constant “start-stopping” for absences, has caused me to re-evaluate how I develop the campaign, and I have a new procedure I’m using for the forseeable future. Here’s hoping it works a bit better for 2019…

Currently, the roadmap(s) look like this:

  • For the Olympus group, we’ve got around 4 weeks (maybe more) left of the current Banestorm run, and after that, GURPS Action: Consular Operations (basically, a “spy thriller”) for probably 6-12 weeks. After that, I currently intend to continue Generica for a full-length run.
  • For the Core Group, we’ve got a Fallout game at the start of the year, which I would expect to go from 6-12 weeks. I’m expecting a run of Night’s Black Agents after that. Then I’m planning to get Terra Nova going.
  • Assuming the new procedure works out, I intend to sketch out some material for Autoduel, and maybe Sea Dogs (after some retooling), as backups.

Table News, 1 Oct 2018

The Core Group (Fri) has roughly sorted out the GMing queue, and there won’t be an opening for me there for around a year, looks like. Work on the Sea Dogs campaign for the Olympus (Sat) group is ongoing. Nothing to see here, yet. So, I thought I’d discuss some of the mechanical issues I’ve been working on for that campaign.

Random Crew

I started a “recruitment” Skill Challenge test-run on the group’s forum, but it got a bit tangled up in the process of everyone trying to wrap their heads around it. At the time, Sea Dogs was next in the queue. Due to the confusion, I worked out a backup plan for generating new NPC crewmen in a hurry, based on something we did in the Core Group some years back. Barring adjustment, the current Random Crew generator is posted on the wiki. Now that the campaign is pushed back in the queue, we’re going to revisit the Skill Challenge thing, but this generator will allow me to wait until the last minute to do that.

Rumors

I think the vast majority of RPG systems or meta-systems just use a random-list of “rumors” with some kind of social skill-check to pick up one/some. That’s fine if the PC is actively trying to get information from a person or group, but if the PC is just eavesdropping for whatever is interesting, skill has nothing to do with it. Credit to Ronnke: he mentioned the Scavenging rules from After the End, which I re-wired for this purpose. The Rumors mechanic is posted on the wiki, such as it is.

Navigation

GURPS Swashbucklers (3e) has some guidelines about sailing distances and times within the Caribbean, but they’re pretty broad, and don’t take into account other destinations than those listed, or the differences between ships and their individual performance characteristics. I wanted to remedy that, not only for this campaign, but for potential future use as well. For now, I’ll be using Google Earth for drawing out the paths and calculating the distances involved. Toward the cause of doing all the math behind the scenes so the players don’t have to on game night, I combined data from Vehicles (3e), Vehicles Expansion I (3e), Swashbucklers (3e), Low-Tech, and others into a spreadsheet designed to manage the navigation process—distance, course, wind, currents, and the sailing properties of the ship/rigging are all accounted for, in as accurate a manner as I could manage.

Travel Logistics

Sea-travel is going to be a focus of this campaign. GURPS has a number of sources dealing with long-distance travel in general, and sea-travel in specific, the best being Dungeon Fantasy 16: Wilderness Adventures. I am combining that with the “mission planning” stuff from Action 2, and adding in my own Preparation Points, Impulse Buys aspected to travel preparations. I’m still sorting out the details on this one.

Trade

At least one of the players had specifically requested to not do “trading” in this campaign. Although “travel” is a focus of the campaign, “trade” is not. I would usually prefer to go into detail, for the simulation’s sake, but I opted to go with a greatly-simplified system rather than eliminate it entirely. This will be loosely based on Sid Meier’s Pirates! combined with a little inspiration from “Medieval Sea Trade” in Pyramid 3/87 Low-Tech III. This one is still being worked on as well.

Random Traffic

It’s simple enough to randomly determine what appears on the horizon at any given time at sea, but it’s another matter for that determination to be realistic. This issue has resulted in the largest number of research hours, I think, to determine what an appropriate amount of sea-traffic is for the 18th century Caribbean Sea. My research has not been fruitless, though maybe not as specific as I would like. I have the basics worked out, but I’m still working on it (at a lower priority than the others, since I could easily wing it, and nobody would know).

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.