FGLE Chapter II, GM Retrospective

GM Confidence: I averaged 4.31/5 for the run, and that’s pretty close to my overall feeling—maybe 4.5. It was definitely a good run, and an improvement over last time, even if I didn’t quite avoid all of the old mistakes. What a difference four years makes! This was my second full-length (12 sessions) run for Olympus, and the first “sequel.”

Overview

See the introduction for reference.

This chapter ended up as a linear collection of self-contained episodes revolving (in the background) around Harmin of Grudgehold’s overly-elaborate revenge plot against the Heroes’ Guild. I tried to keep things simple—not trying to fool anyone with clever twists—working in all the fairy-tale and fantasy tropes I could.

Sounding-board

In summary: Shelley (LabRat), from our Friday face-to-face group, created the character that I ripped-off for Rayna. Since Rayna had become an NPC, as a result of the player leaving the Olympus group, I gave Shelley “control” of Rayna and started working with her on The Guffin Hall Job, while I was working on the details on the run-up to the start of the campaign. She “accidentally” became an essential part of the GMing process.

Having someone with whom you can discuss the details, who isn’t playing in the game, is a big help—especially if they don’t think like you. I’ve made attempts at finding a proper “sounding-board” before, but this was the first time it actually worked out, and I highly recommend it.

Other changes from Chapter I

  • The “new players for old characters” has been discussed before. That went well enough, though I decided afterward that, due to the players’ personality differences, I probably should have swapped the two. Both of them have said they will end up playing new characters in the next Chapter. Murdok will return to Dwarfmount to try to clear his brother’s name. Dustan is going to leave the Wizards’ Guild, though he may hang around as an NPC.
  • Chapter I didn’t benefit from my later epiphany regarding campaign “Theme.” I supported the “Fame and Fortune” Theme in Chapter II with all the Bad Guys using the “Great fame and wealth unimaginable” catchphrase, and the gradual increase in the PCs’ reputation and visibility, though I feel like I could have brought the “good or bad thing?” question into better focus. The secondary theme of “Family™” was an accident stemming from the PCs’ backgrounds; I didn’t intentionally push that one, but it did come up now and again on its own.
  • As a group, we had stopped using “general purpose” Plot Points for a while now, for reasons. I kept the “special purpose” ones, though: we used Preparation Points quite a lot, and occasionally, Tactics. In place of the GP points, I continued the more-recent use of Bennies, which had been working out pretty well.

Details

  • I did the original “skeleton” of the campaign some years prior, and had enough time in the run-up to go through the entire outline and detail each session (more) fully before it started. This is probably the most well-crafted campaign I’ve run so far; unusual, as the last few have been sandboxes, where I had no real long-term plan at all. Behind-the-scenes, that meant I was able to use proper foreshadowing, and work in lore elements and threads I might not have, otherwise, on-the-fly.
  • I also built a spreadsheet-based generator for Crusader Kings 2 “events” that I could work into the narrative, but those stayed in the background.
  • I’ve found that I’ve gotten pretty good at eyeballing the session notes for pacing; every session ended within 20 minutes or so of my target run-time. However, no (or few) cliffhangers makes me sad 😛
  • I used a lot of Skill Challenges (and derivatives) in this run—I tried to do one per session. As a group, we’ve gotten pretty efficient with these, so it didn’t require a great deal of handholding to get through, and tended to go pretty quickly. Best thing to come out of D&D 4e 😛
  • Given the “compressed” nature of the self-contained sessions, I didn’t want to drag out travel segments when it wasn’t really the focus of the campaign. I streamlined the process where I could, applying some of the lessons learned from my other recent campaigns. I think using different images along the way gives a good feel of “progress,” but I also tried to use the same images for areas that were repeated, for familiarity—I can’t speak for the players regarding whether or not that actually worked.
  • I did a number of different alpha-tests of my Action Challenge System throughout the run. They all had some minor issues, but those errors should translate to improvements down the road. I’m actually pretty happy with the progress, there.
  • Even in Chapter I, I tried to push the idea of interesting “components/rituals” for the usual magic spells. In this run, I ended up granting a Benny (usable only on that spell’s effects) for a proper description. This worked out really well in the early part of the run, and I really liked the results. But sadly, its use slacked off over time. I wouldn’t call the concept a “failure” but I need to find a way to promote its use more.
  • I continued using (when I could) the “Lock and Key” method for social encounters—pre-defining topics/approaches that will shut down the opposition or open them up. It still feels functional to me, but it also feels like it needs something. More definition? This will probably be worth its own article down the road, when I’m more comfortable with it.
  • I intentionally avoided any actual “dungeon crawls,” even though they are a fantasy staple. They would take way too long on their own, and moreso when combats occur within them.

Devils

  • I’ve gotten better about not letting my narrative desire—the “want/need” for something to occur in a certain way—drive the plot. I did run afoul of it here and there, but mercifully, it didn’t result in a disaster, as it did in the previous Chapter.
  • It has been pointed out that there was a possibly-excessive amount of the GM speaking, compared to the players, in the course of a session. To some degree, this is a fact-of-life of playing remotely, and I’m not sure there’s an effective remedy, other than to make a focus of leaving enough space for the players to have their say.
  • There was more than one occasion where I had friendly NPCs involved in a combat scene, and didn’t really have a plan for what to do with them. This is another opportunity for “show-not-tell” and lore-building that I really shouldn’t miss, but that’s difficult without preparation—I need to remind myself in the future.
  • I have done a great deal of work on the lore, and the wiki, but there are some key bits I never really fleshed out. Specifically: the “mana versus sanctity” question, or requirements for guild/church advancement. Given those bits involved active PCs, I really don’t have an excuse.

Running gags and themes

  • The “Great fame and wealth unimaginable” catchphrase is the most important running gag, designed specifically to work with the campaign Theme. As previously mentioned, the idea was ripped straight out of The Middleman and similarly employed.
  • By design, all but a few of the episodes started in the Heroes’ Guild tavern the same way: PCs have a pint delivered by Búrli, who either makes fun of Murdok or tries some culinary experiment, before one of the other guild officers delivers the mission, with a second to reinforce the narrative (and show some of the interplay between the officers, and demonstrate their character). Aside from the “start in a tavern” trope, and comedic potential, it served as a solid “get started/into character” moment players could latch onto.
  • The Town Crier was a way to deliver bits of lore and/or useful information about current or future missions. Some of the bits of “news” were drawn from the CK2 events mentioned above. When I didn’t have that, I shamelessly ripped off “herald” lines from Assassin’s Creed 2. If you hadn’t noticed, I observed the Rule of Three, both with the number of news items and number of regular heralds.
  • The original plan was for a running gag of people saying “Company of the Bere…Never heard of you”—which would have worked nicely with the campaign Theme. Not sure why it didn’t happen, exactly, but it was more-or-less replaced with the “Company of the Beer…sorry, Bear” gag. I didn’t think I could get away with continuing the previous “I thought there were more of you…” gag, as much as I liked that one.

To be (ideally) continued

By the end of the run, including several breaks, I didn’t feel so “exhausted” as I usually might, but I was certainly ready to stop. That said, I have already begun the Diversion I play-by-post (sort of) quasi-campaign, which is intended to lead into Chapter III, for which I have a “basic plan” now. I have no idea how long it will last, or how often progress will be posted, but it will appear on the blog when it happens. It’s a good excuse to continue updating the wiki and working on the lore—there’s plenty of that to be done.

There remains the possibility that I might run a separate Generica campaign on Fridays with the face-to-face group, likely revolving around Rayna and Guffin Hall, but I have no specific plans at the moment. And the Generica-based Keep on the Borderlands is still being considered, though I couldn’t guess, at the moment, the likelihood it will see the light of day.

FGLE Chp II:XII, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 4.5/5. Overall, the finale went pretty well. The new mechanics just needed a bit more polish.

Overall

This session had an intentionally simple structure: the reveal at the guildhall, the fight down the street, and the fight at the end. I managed to work in elements from nearly all the previous sessions—only the “Paladin Escort Job’ was missing, I think; I nearly had Ser Bryton show up, but the idea came to me a bit late. A strong countdown (the vortex) and increasing difficulty kept a pretty good energy level throughout. Narratively, the campaign as a whole was tied off nicely. From this “broad” perspective, the session was really successful, in my opinion.

The Guildhall

Obviously (in hindsight) it didn’t matter if the PCs pulled the trigger on Harmin or not. But I expected either Ser Kenrick or Murdok would be the ones to do so, if it came to it, and that was the case, for honor or expedience, respectively. I had one way to bypass the “rules” in mind, and I was happy that Maykew’s player found it (or near enough); I was in the process of deciding whether or not I might need to prompt someone when it happened. The real trick, here, though, would have been if the PCs had done nothing—that might have been awkward; someone else would have killed Harmin, no doubt, but it would have felt flat. There was a little more “discussion” required here than I might have preferred, though I can’t think of a way to solve that, and I wanted to pad the time a little, at that moment, anyway.

ACS: Combat/Disaster Zone

I tried this the first time in Earthfall. This time I tried to strip it down to only what was necessary. But the mechanics went through many rewrites, up to the last minutes before the game, and I think it showed. I won’t go into great detail here, since I expect to do a full article on the (more) “finished” version in the future.

I started the segment by explaining the rules and conditions, as has been my procedure. But there was so much to explain that I decided, in the moment, to delay some of it until it became immediately relevant—this was a mistake. In retrospect, it’s probably better to let things slow down, and be sure everyone has a full understanding of the mechanics, than to lose energy to players’ confusion (or worse, frustration) in the middle. Lesson learned.

The mechanical basics were sound, and we’ve all gotten proficient with the GURPS Chase stuff and D&D Skill Challenges on which it is based. I made a list of all the Maneuvers and considered how they would work in this situation, but nobody did anything other than “Move” (with the one exception that I had planned for). I laid out the Zones so as to ease the players in, and gradually added more difficulty. I hesitated midway through when it started to look like it might be too difficult, but that turned out to be an anomaly. (And then a day or two later, it sank in that I had missed some other modifiers in their favor anyway.) I replaced the speed and maneuverability “Mobility Advantage” modifiers with “Combat Advantage.” This is the part that got refactored the most, was the most clunky, and also the part that I failed to adequately explain. Aside from the excessive calculations (that should have been done before the game), I encountered an issue unique to playing on a VTT: having to scroll the chat back and forth to gather the necessary info to get those maths done. It didn’t take long after the session before I started to see “better ways” to manage this part.

Other than that, my only real complaint was that, after thinking it might end up being too short, it ended up taking longer than I had anticipated—but not too bad. I thought it felt pretty good, and I got quite a few good data-points for later improvement.

Final Combat

Is this the meat or the potatoes? These guys were intentionally tough on their own, but the environmental factors further limited players’ choices. In spite of that, as usual, the PCs kinda walked all over them. I don’t think I made any real “tactical” errors there, though it might have been better to back up against the vortex and hold there. The PCs (specifically Ser Kenrick) had better mobility, and used it well. I also keep forgetting DB. Also, the dice really screwed me over. It’s too bad we were running too late to keep it going, but my bad guys really had nothing left to give at that point.

Side note: This isn’t the first instance featuring “simultaneous action in the out-of-bounds,” and I’m realizing that seeing an “empty” out-of-bounds area doesn’t result in proper consideration—next time, I intend to graphically represent, or at least, hint at, the other combatants.

Miscellaneous

  • I was thinking of Se7en for Harmin’s entrance
  • I worked in a proper Sky Beam™, finally
  • If someone had walked the Key into the portal, they would have disappeared, never to return (until the next campaign, anyway, with an amazing story, no doubt)
  • It was late in the process when I looked up whether or not a knighthood was ever given to foreigners in the medieval period; it did sometimes happen, though it’s more common in modern times. But we were actually in the middle of the knighting ceremony when I realized that none of the PCs were actually eligible 😛

FGLE Chp II:XI, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 3.5/5. A chain of stupid mistakes caused this session to unravel over its course, from my perspective, at least.

Chain of mistakes

The Temple

The cliffhanger kickoff started well enough, but there were a few issues. First, there was the “death by cutscene” paralysis effect. I know how annoying those are, but I didn’t have any better ideas up to the last minute, and I wanted/needed everyone to be immobilized. (Pay attention—this “wanted/needed” issue will come up again.) This was minor; I knew everyone would “get it” and play along, and they did. No harm, no foul. Second, though, was the recovery time: This was a “custom” spell-effect and for the whole week of prep, I intended the PCs to all recover at the same randomly-determined time, but in the moment it occurred, I thought, “That’s dumb. They should recover separately.” The expansion of the cloud of Black Amber assumed they would all be ambulatory at the time, and I very nearly had a real problem, given that not all of the PCs were so. Third, it had not even occurred to me that someone might need to know how one relieves such a condition, which I’m certain could easily have been pulled from an existing spell-effect if I had.

The Duel

This part went through a lot of rewrites over the week, and to be fair, I do think the end result was the best narrative. However, once again, I knew I had a big problem: all but one of the PCs would be twiddling their thumbs while Ser Kenrick fought. I had one player run the bad guy, which is always a good trick; that takes care of one—three more to go. I really tried, but by the end of the week, I had not come up with a better plan, other than to push the fight through as quickly as possible, and throw a few rumours in for the non-participants. In retrospect, I should have had the false-princess do something for them to investigate.

Mechanically, I’ve used the “Feint=Circle-and-Find-an-Opening” concept before, and it makes perfect sense. But PCs have the D&D muscle-memory causing them to continually press the attack until the enemy is down, trying to do as much DPS as possible. The resulting fight ended up being brutally short. There are optional/unofficial mechanics to help with this sort of thing: “Action Points” (Pyramid 3/44, “The Last Gasp”) is one of the better ones, if a bit too much additional bookkeeping for regular use—I have a slightly easier version of my own that I have yet to implement or test. However, given that the other players were thumb-twiddling, the fight’s brevity was, ultimately, helpful. In retrospect, though, the opponent should have, at least, fought until he was knocked down.

Side note: I also had a backup plan for the false-princess to fight her way out, which would have gotten everyone properly involved, but I wanted/needed her to escape without serious injury.

The Sniper

The cascade-failure in the pass to Hidden Lake began in Highroad: the PCs decided to send the ranger to find the nearest druid and have him deliver a message ahead—a perfectly sensible thing to do (that I had not considered at all). I had planned for the ranger to lead the PCs to the pass, and deliver some exposition about Hidden Lake along the way—which, if I had my wits at the time, he would have delivered before he left. I had not considered at all the idea that the PCs might ride through the forest-pass, which greatly changed the tactical environment. My intention was to drop the entire sniper ambush if the session had gone too late by then; I looked at the time just after I fired the first shot, and realized it was too late, which meant I had to scramble to figure out how to abbreviate the whole thing. I intended for the mega-murder of crows to creepily stop and fly away before the sniper attacked, and I completely forgot (that, and the “distraction” penalty). I had also planned for the now-not-present ranger to be the first one the sniper shot, rather than a PC. Once it had begun, what I desperately did not want to happen—the players basically frozen-in-place for 30 minutes dickering about how to proceed, misunderstanding the conditions, etc.—did exactly happen. When the PCs began to react to the ambush, I could immediately hear in their conversation that frustrating realization that I had just given the PCs a foe they were unable to effectively address. He would likely kill them all one-by-one, if I played him intelligently. Fortunately, the players saved me from that last part by giving me a tactical “out.”

Side note: Although I did manage to draw PC blood, I don’t really count this one. 😛

The Kelpie

The kelpie was Shelley’s (from the Friday face-to-face group) suggestion as a guardian, and I liked the “uniqueness” of it, plus the “Fey” tie-in worked well with the campaign narrative. I had some difficulties with determining her abilities, though: the (3e) GURPS version of a kelpie differs from the D&D version, and also the real myth/legend version—I decided I wanted/needed the PCs to not be able to beat her down in a couple of rounds, so I stuck with the myth/legend version that only mentioned vulnerability to silver and cold iron (which has its own problems). Having said that, I didn’t take the time to consider things like what exactly happens when you take hold of the bridle. I really needed to scour the stories for some more combat-oriented narratives, if such things exist.

The introduction of the kelpie went fairly well, actually, but there were some issues stemming from prior failures. Again, I had not considered that the PCs might be mounted when they arrived. I had assumed that the PCs would notice the woman from afar and take a minute to recon and consider. I had assumed that someone would think about using the mirror on her before they approached. I had assumed someone would make a better “identification” roll (aided by usage of the mirror) and get enough information to suggest that maybe Murdok should get out the magic sling. I had assumed that the PCs who would not be effective against her would be told so before they engaged. I had not considered that the PC with the magic sling might be being bandaged at the time of the attack. I had not actually considered the kelpie’s tactics, only her most basic goals—it would have been better to have her try to keep her distance and pick off the vulnerable.. I had added the sniper, originally, to support the kelpie, not to be a separate encounter: this would have worked better, functionally, but would have been harder to “explain.”

The flow of information, here, is the messiest part. I did finally (re)locate the DF2 section for “Recognition” that explained which skills ID which creatures, and how that all works (in DF, anyway). But I also expected the PCs to roll better. As a result, they didn’t have the information they needed to effectively engage the creature, had to figure it out in the middle of combat, and ultimately, had no idea what the hell they were doing. This may be perfectly realistic, but it is wholly unacceptable to any GM trying to keep combat from turning into a cluster-fuck. Sometimes, the GM really must hand players the info and find a way to live with it.

A related issue: I really struggled with whether or not to remind Dustan’s player to use the mirror here. I almost had him make an IQ roll, but when you think about it, that’s not very useful. What happens if he fails? If he doesn’t, what was the point? I have tried to get into the habit of using a sort of “passive check” for things like this: either assume that, because the PC has a score of n, he knows a thing, or assume a roll of “10” and apply that to the Trait level as if it had been rolled. This would likely have solved the mirror and the identification issues, and/or maybe allowed the actual rolls to be applied to “extra” knowledge. Clearly, I forgot.

Not all bad…

I did manage to give all the PCs their own moment: Ser Kenrick’s duel, Maykew’s oration, Lëodan’s sniper-fight, Murdok uses the sling…, Dustan uses the magic items…wait… Well, it mostly worked. There was some fun roleplay with the kelpie introduction. Some good lessons have been learned, too, especially if taken alongside the previous session’s success. (It is interesting, and probably, coincidental, that the two worst sessions of the campaign have both been “part 2s.”)

Miscellaneous

  • The “For the honor…” bit is from The Fifth Element; “Black Amber” is inspired by the amber-bomb-thing from Fringe
  • I expected Ser Kenrick’s player to be a little more enthusiastic about the duel, but I didn’t take into account a reluctance to “kill an otherwise non-hostile person for no good reason”
  • I used “Crow” from Hawk the Slayer as the sniper, to the amusement of all (who happened to joke about that exact thing before the reveal). I literally used Lëodan’s character sheet to roll from 😛
  • I had a forest-trail map set up for the sniper fight, but I held it back unless/until it might actually be needed for close-quarters combat
  • I used the “visual detection” stuff from GURPS Vehicles (3e), as I usually do, for the forest. But those rules only have “light” and “dense” varieties of woods; I extrapolated something in-between. I’ve found the easiest way to manage fog/woods situations like that is to recalculate the Size and Speed/Range Table (relevant parts) ahead of time.
  • The Hidden Lake tower is based on the Lake Vyrnwy water straining tower

Late Edit

I should have gotten the Baron involved, wanting to know the truth about the false-princess, and had him send a contingent of troops along with the PCs to Hidden Lake. They could know the area. They could have not had horses. They could have freaked out about the crows. They could have been shot by the sniper. They could have been tricked by the kelpie. Goddammit…I hate when I figure out the perfect solution after it’s too late… 😛

FGLE Chp II:X, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 5/5. This session went really well, by all accounts—good energy throughout. Since I don’t have much to complain about, I’ll touch on some of the behind-the-scenes processes.

The Duty

Dustan’s Duty to the Wizards’ Guild appears on a “9,” which means it comes up a lot. The previous occurrence was a little underwhelming, in my opinion. I wanted to do something a little different this time, and I came up with the “conflicting choice,” which became the decision to encourage or prevent the Antagonese prince’s rescue of the princess, in order to tie it into the mission. This might have been good enough on its own, but I wanted to make it a little stronger.

Rank comes with an assumed Duty, though it can occur “whenever I feel like it.” I employed this in two ways: the PCs’ collective Duty to the Heroes’ Guild (by having Válaris promise to get the job done), and Lëodan’s Duty to the Rangers/Druids (which was also an opportunity to illustrate the rivalry between the Druids and Wizards, and their political machinations). By having the other PCs’ firmly established in the pro-Heroes’ Guild camp, Dustan’s decision is especially difficult, as it should be. By involving the king and the heads of the respective guilds, it gives the whole thing more gravitas—an appropriate rise in stakes for the last quarter.

During the process, I found myself leaning toward making this a “group” choice, but pulled back—this is a Dustan problem.

The Chase

I’ve been itching to get a proper Chase in this campaign. I almost had one in Session 8, but it didn’t quite work out; it would have been very similar. In this case, the distances involved didn’t lend themselves to the default “range bands”—”miles” (or another linear measurement) could have served that purpose well enough, but time-based measurement helped reinforce the “countdown.” I eventually decided to give the Antagonese party a head start and have PCs catch up to them, rather than an equal race off the line, to give it a little more uncertainty. (Plus I expected the PCs would blow past them anyway.)

As far as I know, the 1d6 roll for Research “hours” in Action2 is the only place that mechanic is referenced, but I’ve started to gravitate toward using it in these “ambiguous timetable” spots. I thought it worked brilliantly here, combined with Plot Points and whatnot, plus the addition of Extra Effort to the Chase itself.

I just really liked how it all blended together, and it seemed like the players liked it, as well—I’ll definitely try to use this in the future.

The Prince

I needed to properly introduce the prince as a douche, and drive home the need to get to the princess first. I expected there would be a convergence with the PCs somewhere along the Chase progress, which should occur at the end of that day, given how the mechanics worked. But it was possible the PCs either wouldn’t catch up, or pass them up in an inconvenient manner, or just choose not to stop near them at all. I did have a number of backup plans in mind, but I was fortunate to not need them. The original plan was a “barroom brawl” situation, but that required the players to make certain decisions or mistakes that couldn’t be counted on, and I didn’t want to pack in a combat segment at this point. Waygon’s “insult” was the perfect solution, and I frankly expected the PCs to make a fool of him the way they did (though I wouldn’t make it easy). I was prepared to “pull the trigger” on Waygon if they failed, but as a paid-for Ally to Maykew, I would have been forced to intervene, somehow (which I expected to involve Ser Magnus).

The Fight

Given how the last fight went, I wanted to give the PCs a properly dangerous adversary. I ramped up the mooks’ armor considerably, and some of their capabilities—shields are normally a PITA to defeat—but I held back on their numbers, thinking it might be a little too much. The PCs went through them way too quickly, but to be fair, they could easily have been beaten back. I don’t feel like I made any real mistakes, tactically. Honestly, the players got lucky with their rolls versus the enemy’s rolls, and some good tactical decisions gave them a much better advantage than I expected. In retrospect, I should have gone with 1.5-2× the PCs’ number. One thing I need to look to for the future is some “reasonable” armor-piercing capability, and I’m pretty sure it’s been a while since any of the enemy have had ranged support—just one sniper would have changed the tactical landscape considerably.

The Boss, Drago, on the other hand, would probably have killed a PC or two if they had stuck in with him, but he was always intended to slink away (or take a fall and disappear), for reasons that should be more-or-less obvious now.

Miscellaneous

  • I was on “staycation” all this week, and I used that time to watch a lot of crappy medieval-fantasy TV shows, scouring them for screenshots and ideas. I got a bit rabbit-holed looking for locations in the castle in Merlin, which I’m using for Castle Royal in the game.
  • I had Shelley (from the Friday face-to-face group) write the “myth” of Burnithrax and Summoner’s Rock; her version was a bit longer and grander than my “condensed” version.
  • An audience with the king is a scene I’ve wanted to do for years. It was a shame that Murdok’s player was late, though, as I’m sure his presence would have made it a lot messier for them. Also, I totally forgot to make them roll Savoir-Faire.
  • Dustan’s Patron, Mintôr, also triggered for this session. I was tempted to give a Plot Point again, like last time, but I decided to give him some useful mission information instead, along with using him as an excuse to remind the player to use the mirror—I was a little concerned they might not think of it. It’s a shame I couldn’t figure out how to make his “advice” in that regard a little more obscure.
  • Le suilon” means “I greet you” in Sindarin Elvish; “Mára farië” means “Good hunting”
  • This was the first encounter with Nefarian forces, also a long time in the making.
  • They just rescued a princess from a dragon; but the princess is in a different castle.
  • One downside of this campaign style is the lack of cliffhangers, with the lone exception of the two-parters. It was really important to end this one at just the right moment.

FGLE Chp II:IX, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 4.75/5. In spite of a couple of minor gripes, I think this session went really well. I enter the last quarter of the campaign in good spirits.

The Good

The “one-liners” concept from the previous few sessions seemed to be working rather well, so I pushed it a little farther in this session, with what I’ll refer to as the “Tour Montage.” The idea here was to come up with some one-liners (one for each of the PCs, in this case)—highlighting some aspect of the abbey they might find attractive or interesting—along with a brief bit of exposition on the part of the tour-guide (the abbot) to go along with each one, in which I embellished a little, and worked in some information relevant to the mission-at-hand. These were to be delivered in a “flow” sequence. I did the same thing at the forest camp on a smaller scale (without the additional graphics). It seemed to achieve what I intended, although in retrospect, it was still a bit “wordy” for an RPG, and as one player pointed out, left them struggling to find an opportunity to interject/interrupt. In the future, I need to remember to leave the PCs room to get in a word or a question, and to not “connect” the bits of monologue between one-liners (which resulted in some oddly “interrupted” conversations). There wasn’t really anything for the PCs to do here; it would have been ideal if I could have come up with some small action they could take in these moments. In many ways, this is the same thing as the Travel and Tournament Montages, with the addition of the narrative “guide.” As a system, it can still use some polish, but it’s headed in the right direction.

As I reviewed my notes mid-week, I thought it was a bit “light,” and I realized that, throughout this entire campaign, I had not yet given the PCs a proper “fetch quest” at all. I went back and forth with Shelley (from the Friday f2f group) for a while, using tarot and whatnot, until we had distilled it down to the “lost doll stolen by a dog” concept. I continued to massage the concept afterward, and eventually arrived at the “orphan girl,” tying her into the “archvicar” narrative, and making her the sole witness to Tonik’s disappearance (though I needed some backup pathing in case they failed). Poppy triggered both Ser Kenrick’s “good with children” and Maykew’s “orphan” background—they connected with her, as expected—but the narrative grew into something bigger, I think, and made for some good pathos in the end.

The Nitpicks

The session did feel a bit railroady to me, in spots, especially when it came to directing the PCs toward the forest community. Giving freedom versus the illusion of freedom is often hard to balance. Also, I’ve found that when the one correct choice is too obvious, it still feels like railroading. Ultimately, the players need to feel like they could have chosen another path, and I don’t know that I successfully provided that.

The fetch-quest itself—tracking down the dog and whatnot—probably could have used a little more work. I did go over the tracking rules, at least. To be fair, it was, ultimately, filler—but it could have been more filling filler.

Similarly, I wanted to do a little more at the abbey. In a sandbox campaign, this is a no-brainer. Here, I didn’t want to get too bogged down in what would ultimately go nowhere, since the real objective was in the forest. In the early fetch-quest development, I was trying to have that narrative take the PCs back to the abbey, but that didn’t flow correctly in the end, and I decided to let it go.

My biggest nitpick of all—which is still just a nitpick—was my boss-fight. Nevermind the fact that a couple of PCs wanted to interrupt the monologue; that’s normal behavior, and I don’t consider that a fail, per se. Super-Tonik was really strong, and certainly capable, but not enough for the current PCs. I gave him more natural DR than most of the PCs, themselves, have, but they’ve got too much armor-piercing gear now (especially after Murdok added enchantments at the beginning of the session). I couldn’t justify giving him Combat Reflexes or Enhanced Defenses on their own (though I did give him a point in Parry Missile Weapons, just because it might be fun) and there were multiple instances of him failing to defend by one. While his high HT and HP helped him last longer, the one fail on a Stun check doomed him. He was dead in two seconds. I am disappointed because I expected to challenge the PCs a little more than I did. But this is a downside of GURPS, that a group of multiple PCs can down a powerful single creature far more easily than in D&D. I had stated in my notes that, if the PCs did well with the break-in, none of the mercs would join the fight, and that turns out to have been a mistake. I also meant to have Aidin call out to “take him alive,” which would have raised the challenge level considerably. It worked out, though, as we ended up getting to the fight a little later than I intended, and throwing some mooks into the mix always drags things out.

Miscellaneous

  • Dustan’s Duty fired off once again, but this time, he’s bought up his Guild Rank, so he isn’t a student anymore. Before that had occurred, I had planned to have him acting as a teachers’-aide, having to grade a pile of thesis-papers during the trip. On a related note: choosing the “librarian” as his master is not only a bit of a jab at the character/player, but is also a way of preserving the status quo by keeping him tethered to the Capital as he already had been (as opposed to traveling all over with a more “active” master).
  • I watched Names of the Rose during the week. Later I dug around for good images for the abbey, and liked the Sacra di San Michele. I didn’t realize until afterward that this abbey was the actual inspiration for the one in the movie (and the book that was based on).
  • Really late in the week, I figured out how to work in the “monument to St. Scriptus, on the spot where he was said to have ascended to the gods,” and as I continued, I told myself that if I didn’t record that in the notes, I would forget it…and I did
  • I was surprised the PCs didn’t actually even try to take down Tonik non-lethally; I should have given them a specific reason to
  • The interaction with Poppy was so successful that the PCs—specifically, Ser Kenrick and Maykew—in post-game, spent much time figuring out how to get the orphans in the forest community to better homes.
  • The “archvicar” situation isn’t actually what it sounds like, from the in-game perspective. Lord-Vicar Dovan is Duc Rikard’s spymaster, is Paranoid, and is fixated on the mysterious wood-woman, Sidya, as the object of his paranoia (Ref: Court). Sidya is said to have come from a similar forest community, so he’s been “beating the bushes” to find out the truth—and maybe beating them a little too hard.

FGLE Chp II:VIII, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 4.6/5. For a session that nearly didn’t happen at all, this one went surprisingly well. My only real complaint is what I would categorize as “normal GM stuff.”

Under the Hood

The Highhorse family is a minor house, and I had not planned to develop it very much until preparing for this session. I needed the house patriarch, at least, and a headquarters. However, due to Ser Kenrick’s player’s decision to pursue one of the princess’ ladies-in-waiting, deciding on the Highhorse girl, I had to build out the family a little more than I had originally intended, just to find out who she was related to and how. But that’s not a bad thing.

I’ve had difficulty researching “ransoms” for nobles, in general, excepting some famous incidents here and there that don’t really apply. The good news: Banestorm p. 41 sets it as “half a year’s cost-of-living,” which is a good place to start. Bad news: for anyone with actual Status, it amounts to a lot of money; far more than I think is necessarily appropriate. But once you have a base to work from, dividing that down to a more reasonable number is easy. The £200 I used was less than the full amount according to Banestorm, but barring any research suggesting a more appropriate amount, I just ran with it.

The previous sessions gave me plenty of opportunities to develop a new technique, what I’m now referring to as “one-liners.” It’s a one-line bullet point saying, in essence, “You see this thing happen.” The idea, as employed thus far, is to decide on a number of one-liners—one per PC, one per story segment, or in this case, just “Rule of Three”—and find some piece of exposition I can “show, not tell” in that one event. Specifically, I wanted to showcase Upton’s overinflated sense of self-importance, so I came up with three (or as it ended up, four) ways I could demonstrate that. It’s not that profound, on the surface, I admit, but I’ve had a lot of problems working this sort of min-event into the narrative in the past, and this has helped organize things for me.

The centerpiece of this session was going to be the combat on the road. Knowing that it would feature charging horsemen, and therefore put Ser Kenrick in the spotlight again, I realized afterward that I probably should have swapped Session 8 and Session 9, to give the rest of the PCs a bit of a break. Definitely a minor mistake.

But the bigger issue with the combat was in my lack of preparedness. I really should have given the mounted combat rules a more thorough glance beforehand. I also should have given the enemy tactics a better review—they should have all been using All-Out Defense during the charge, at the very least. Also I should have tried a little harder to find a way to get all the PCs involved, since I knew some would be left lagging behind—I’ll blame that on the bad week I had, resulting in a late effort. I also felt bad about the misunderstanding regarding crossbow reloading, but honestly, I think this was the first time it ever came up. But I guess it all worked out, in the end.

I had planned for the “bad guys” in Richport to be the corrupt new shariff and his men. But as the week went on, I realized that I would be putting Ser Kenrick in the position to refuse to participate on legal grounds once again. So, I rewired it a little. It was bad enough that Ser Kenrick would have to deal with pirates in the first place—I expected him to make a fuss about that as well. But to his credit, the player has been working Ser Kenrick’s growing dissatisfaction with the Guild for having to work alongside some unsavory characters into his personal narrative.

Outside Considerations

Now Dustan has been upgraded to “graduated” from the Wizards’ Academy, but the player decided to keep the Duty as-is (presumably for the points). This means that I can keep the pre-rolled Frequency results, but it also means I have to come up with something less “academic” for his assignments.

The “magic sling” is the third of three magic items I had planned to give the PCs, per the usual fairy-tale trope. Given that the last two magic items fell to Dustan, I expected the third to do the same—I was not expecting Murdok to claim it. But actually, it might be better. Murdok is going to do a lot more basic damage with it, at least, and his player is inevitably going to go to great lengths to find uses for it. But given that he’s not really “sharing” it (for now), I guess we’ll see how that works out—I have at least one encounter in mind where it will end up being crucial.

As to the other magic items: The key has a mostly-passive use, and I’ve assumed Dustan is carrying it with him at all times, so that one will come into play when it’s needed. But the mirror—that one will have to be actively used, and as Session 7 demonstrated, the PCs may not think of it when it comes time. So, I’m having to think about ways I can recommend its use without “cheating” (that is, blatantly telling them it’s important).

Miscellaneous

  • I didn’t have any good ideas for what to do with Magister Mintôr’s appearance this time, so I decided to just give Dustan a Plot Point (that he never used), in case something appropriate came up during the session.
  • I had given Upton a phobia regarding boats and water specifically to keep them from resorting to traveling by boat, but I don’t remember what the reason for that was anymore.
  • This second time using Benstan of Snorrington went better than the first—I did prepare myself a little better. I don’t know why he gives me such trouble at game-time.
  • Garak is an obvious ripoff of the character from Deep Space Nine—I figured anyone recognizing that would understand the kind of character he is meant to be. Interestingly, I had originally intended for him to be murdered at the end of this session, but the numerous rewrites saved his life, and now he’ll probably return down the road.
  • The “Dread Pirate” is also an easily-identifiable ripoff, but the payoff on that one won’t come during this campaign—it may be a feature in the next.

FGLE Chp II:VII, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 3.5/5. It was more good than bad, to be fair, but some stuff definitely didn’t go as planned, and would have benefited from a little more polish. I feel I can accurately say that my less-than-positive opinion is based not on what was but what ought to have otherwise been.

Overall

If you’ve been reading these debriefs up to this point, you might have picked up on a recurring theme of “bad week at work,” and that’s no less so in this case. Another rough week resulted in problems thinking through the known issues, and missing some unknowns, delaying the needed detail-work to the last minute. And a rough day on Saturday—including a malfunctioning air-conditioning unit in the apartment—meant I was having some real problems keeping focused and processing the usual problems quickly during the game. Combine that with a complicated, experimental narrative that crammed way too many characters. Honestly, I’m amazed it wasn’t a disaster.

The Good

The “find the assassins” Skill Challenge(s) from Part I became more of a Task Chain/Skill Gauntlet in Part II, due to the lack of an obvious, achievable “success” objective. Otherwise, it was more of the same, focusing on new characters and the “shadowing the princess” narrative, with the events tailored for specific PCs this time. I had a really hard time coming up with the content until late in the week, but I felt pretty good about the results, though it could certainly have used a bit more polish. The one involving the wedding went really quickly, too. Over the two sessions, I think I’m getting the hang of this one (much improved from Session 3).

Now at the midpoint of the campaign, I’ve started trying to raise the stakes a bit. I definitely succeeded with the tourney—there was a real chance of failure there, and in the end, the PCs as a group really had to “earn” that win. And the assassin got away (which I didn’t actually expect).

I felt like I finally got a proper grasp of the overall jousting situation, if a bit down-to-the-wire. Another session or two, and I think it would have been really solid. By the end, I had a good feeling about the Grand Mêlée mechanic I had in mind, even though I didn’t get to use it.

The Bad

The “gambling” mechanic was a last-minute addition and it went horribly wrong. As we started to make use of it, I could tell the players were starting to raise eyebrows, but it wasn’t until an hour or so after the session that it started to make sense why. In retrospect, what I realized I was doing was more akin to “betting against the house” or a bookie, which makes more sense in a modern setting, but here, it did not. And I hadn’t fully processed how it would interact with the Gambling skill. What would have been more correct was to use Social Engineering to locate individuals willing to wager, and “haggling” (possibly using Gambling skill in place of Merchant) to arrive at the “price”—after which, you win what they bet, or lose what you bet, without modification.

There were some narrative bits the PCs didn’t acquire, some of which were mildly important, because I failed to find a proper opportunity to introduce them, and/or because I reflexively resorted to die-rolls when I probably shouldn’t have. At the least, Area Knowledge and Current Affairs are good fodder for a “group based” roll rather than individual. But really—if it’s important, or even just interesting, just bloody find an excuse to give it to them. If you’re making them roll for it, it should be something they can progress without.

The idea of introducing characters as a group, specifically with regard to the families, is still a good one. But I did a much better job of it in Part I than Part II— in which I missed the right moment on the Wolfreys, and completely forgot about the Crownroys. As a result, I ended up throwing around names that the players didn’t quite recognize. In the end, it’s probably better to take a moment to briefly point out the characters in addition to showing the group-image.

Around the tournament, we encountered a number of issues:

  • The “Round 2” segment dragged on for much longer than it should have. There were a couple of reasons: Getting the other PCs involved in helping Ser Kenrick, while useful for keeping the players engaged, resulted in delays while we sorted out various related details, and quite a bit of rules-related flailing-about. Also see the aforementioned “Gambling” issues. After Round 2 it actually went fairly quickly, though, so it wasn’t all bad. As a result, far too much time was spent with Ser Kenrick in the spotlight, and unfortunately, the whole thing ended too late for me to keep the Grand Mêlée.
  • While I don’t consider the “piling on” of Bennies to get Ser Kenrick the win to be a necessarily bad thing, and it is indeed “legal” according to what I had recorded, I am considering limits for the future.
  • It was during the prep for this session that the reality began to settle in, for me, that during each round of eliminations, each knight is going to be fighting only once, without some sort of shenaniganry, regardless of the total number of participants. That means only one bout for Ser Kenrick in the whole two weeks prior. Fortunately I had already planned for some shenanigans on the part of Ser Robin, which I just worked into the narrative. Even so, it seems weird.
  • Similarly, I kept finding holes in my tournament-rules logic regarding who would advance when, and how the mechanics would support it. It is a little unforgivable that this wasn’t nailed down from the beginning.
  • Separating the mechanical joust contest from the between-joust events was the best I could come up with at the time, and it was a little jarring. It really needed to be broken up and woven into the narrative/timeline—still jarring, but maybe less so.

Finally, the Mirror: Murdok’s player was being true to the character when he decided he should destroy the mirror, but it was damned inconvenient. But that wasn’t so bad as the fact that, as with the aforementioned “rumors,” I failed to find the right opportunity to remind the players that it might be useful, especially at the wedding events. This is something I still don’t quite have an answer for. Does the GM just tell them (because it’s important)? I realized after the session that I should have brought Truvio back, and he would have made an excellent mouthpiece to that end. Too late. I’ve already figured out how the mirror will return, at least.

The Experiment: Tournament, Continued

GURPS Issues

In the process of dealing with the joust competition, I’ve found a few holes in the GURPS rules-as-written:

  • Setup: Min ST for a lance is 12. Meaning, effectively, the minimum ST for a knight is also 12. Therefore, it can be expected to require at least 10 points of damage delivered to cause a 1yd Knockback. The 2d+3 example (a reasonable average) listed on B397 averages 10 points of delivered damage, and maxes out at 15 (not including All-Out, etc.). Given this, doing enough damage to Knockback more than one yard (20+) not only requires a Critical Hit, but a specific result on the Critical Hit table.
  • Basic and Martial Arts agree that it takes 15 points to break a tournament lance. Given the above, this will only occur with maximum damage. This is just wrong. My solution was to use the optional “Quick and Dirty Weapon Breakage” (LTC2:22), treating the “tournament” lance as Cheap, so it would break on a 1-2 on 1d6 when struck using ST 12—this is much better, and not too complicated to use.
  • An expert rider (Riding 14) with a war-saddle (+3 to Staying Seated) after 1yd of Knockback (-4) has to beat an effective 13 or be unhorsed—this is okay. With a few more points in the Staying Seated technique (MA81) that effective roll can go up to 17—which fails only on a crit. This assumes (as I have ruled it) that Staying Seated does not benefit from the +5 for a horse that “knows and likes” the rider (B217), or it’s nearly impossible to unseat a basically-skilled rider. This feels wrong.
  • Heavy Plate Armor (LT111) has DR 9-11 (depending on options), which, if damage is regularly high enough to break a lance, is going to take an average knight down to 0 HP after a few such hits. This isn’t necessarily unrealistic, but while injuries during jousting aren’t unusual, they don’t seem to be accounted as being that common. Obviously, lower-DR armors will make those injuries even more common. It might be justifiable to give the 3-pronged tournament lance-tip a .5 armor divisor, which would help considerably in this case. Of course, the use of a grand-guard or well-positioned shield could double that DR, making this point moot, providing the opponent hits that target.
  • Historically, as time advanced, the use of shields in jousting (as well as knightly combat in general) fell more out of fashion. Joust participants used grand-guards more and more—which suggests they expected to just “take” a hit. In GURPS, if you have a shield and decent skill, you can expect to deflect a lance blow entirely, resulting in no damage being delivered, no lance breakage, and no Knockback. This makes the use of the shield very attractive, even with the -3 to ride hands-free (MA73), which can be offset with a technique. This really doesn’t reflect history. Using the optional shield-damage rules (B484) would help a little, especially if it causes normal Knockback.
  • I couldn’t find a definitive answer to whether or not the +1 damage/-1 skill from Move 7+ (B397) applied to the lance. As-written, it isn’t excluded, but logically, it really is double-dipping.
In-Play

Bearing in mind the above, here’s what I employed:

  • Apply Basic Abstract Difficulty to opposition “skill levels” as suggested for combat, increasing for each tournament interval.
  • For each tournament interval, the PC and aggregate-opposition make an attack roll, treated as a Quick Contest. Most normal Maneuvers apply, like All-Out Attack. Initially, I determined that Telegraphed and Deceptive options were pointless, until Part II, when I decided to allow their defense effects to apply to the Staying Seated rolls. I decided Rapid Strike and All-Out (Double) would allow taking the best of two rolls (like Luck). Extra Effort would cost Long-Term Fatigue lasting until the end of the tournament. The margin in the Quick Contest would determine the winner, while the attack itself would be treated like autofire with a Rcl of 3—which would be the effective number of times damage was dealt (“hits”).
  • Next, both sides make defense rolls. This would eliminate “hits” as for autofire. Of course, if most knights don’t use shields, there is no defense roll at all.
  • Undefended “hits” do damage to the target as normal. Enough damage would result in Knockback as normal. Knockback would result in a Staying Seated roll as normal. Each hit would result in a lance breakage roll (using the QAD rule).
  • The winner of the bout goes to the highest margin of success. A broken lance adds one to the margin. A proper unhorsing eliminates that side regardless of score, unless they are both unhorsed.
  • I allowed Assistance rolls from the other PCs to apply to the Attack, and was pretty forgiving with their justifications. It might seem a little excessive, but I used it as a partial justification for the BAD level on the other side, so it balanced out.
In Retrospect
  • I really wanted to find a way to eliminate the defense roll entirely, just to speed things up, especially as I began to understand that the typical jousting knight probably wouldn’t bother. Obviously, I didn’t find a solution in time.
  • I noticed the Roll with Blow technique (MA87) might be a good stand-in for defense in the joust, but it would require some rewiring for that purpose. Doubling Knockback as it describes seems like a good reason not to use it, but on the other hand, it might make unhorsing happen more often.
  • I intended to use the Stop Hit (MA108) but still didn’t. I do think it’s appropriate, though, but it doesn’t mean much if nobody is making defense rolls.
  • I should have given Committed Attack the same treatment as Telegraphed/All-Out(Determined), but should it apply to both defense and Riding or just one?
  • Ser Kenrick’s use of a shield meant that he rarely had to make a Staying Seated roll at all, even when using Committed Attack, putting pretty much the entire field at a significant disadvantage.

As many problems as I had, I still think there’s a lot of potential here, with a little more polish. It won’t happen in this campaign, though. I do think it would probably have been ideal to spread this two-part “event” across another session or two, so it didn’t feel quite so crammed, I just didn’t want to commit that much of the limited campaign time to it—that would be better in a proper sandbox, or maybe a play-by-post thing.

Edit

About 24 hours after posting this, it occurred to me that the jousting lance damage, calculated as a collision according to B397, should be using relative velocity, not the mount’s Move. This increases the amount of damage being done significantly and renders moot a number of my complaints: at around 4d+3 or so, average damage becomes 17, which will break a lance every time under the basic rules; maximum damage becomes 27, which would easily cause 2 hexes of Knockback, and an additional -4 to the unhorsing roll—except that if the lance breaks at 15, it caps the damage at 15. Food for thought…

FGLE Chp II:VI, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 4.95/5. I was a little unsure about this session, with all that I needed to be crammed into it. But other than some minor screw-ups, it actually seemed to come off rather well. We have now, officially, reached the halfway point. Yay!

Puzzles and Solutions

A character’s Disadvantages (among other traits) are an excuse and an expectation to present the character with opportunities to exhibit those traits. (Or they should be, at least.) We were well into the campaign when I realized I had missed that Ser Kenrick’s player was looking forward to playing up his severe Truthfulness and Honesty, which would mean he would be perfectly positioned to ruin this session by refusing to participate in the deception. So, I started “prepping” the player weeks before, by telling him that, so he’d be thinking of ways to work around it. At the same time, I came up with the Frequency of Submission-based bonus/penalty as a potential compromise. I think the prepping helped; the player did give the problem some forethought. As far as I’ve ever known, this isn’t normally a thing a GM would do—giving away bits of the story beforehand—but I felt like it was necessary, and it worked out well, in the end.

I had considered how the PCs might execute the mission to “make everyone believe Ser Kanneth still lived,” including the possibility they might claim illness/injury and keep the (imaginary) knight out of sight. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t actually expect them to choose that path, and as a result, I didn’t plan accordingly. Many events had to be adjusted on-the-fly for the fact that Ser Kenrick was not disguising himself as Ser Kanneth; some went better than others. Note for GMs: never, ever, depend on PCs taking a particular action unless you actually leave them no choice. That was a noob mistake I should not have made.

I had some real concerns about the pacing of this session: due to the experimental mechanics, it had the potential to go really long, or really short, with no clear indication which it would be. There were a lot of NPCs that needed to be introduced in some way during the tourney, as nearly everyone of any import would be there—I chose to introduce many of them as “groups” rather than individually, which, I think, helped. I did a much better job showing-not-telling with the Lionheart characters; if I’d had a little longer to prep, I might have done the same for the Stagwoods. I had the tactical combat at the end as a just-in-case buffer, which did end up taking us a little over time, but not too badly.

Another obstacle was the fact that, logically, Ser Kenrick would be heavily spotlighted throughout this session (and its sequel), to the near-exclusion of the other PCs. I had to find ways to get everyone involved. Giving them the “mission” of keeping the secret was the first part of the solution, and the Skill Challenge seemed like the logical way to handle it. Making sure there were other contests they could also participate in was another—that was easy enough. When it came to the mid-tourney events, I made sure to spread them out amongst the players; I didn’t plan it to, but during play, I started using the random-PC-elimination table to assign events that didn’t logically belong to anyone in particular. I feel like this was successful. They seemed “busier” even than usual, and had to stretch their abilities a little.

Probably the most difficult aspect of this session was delivering the “tourney montage” narrative while working around the crunchy bits. Do the fighting first, then the Skill Challenge, or the other way? How and where do you work the other side events—in between rolls, or before/after? If you were describing the overall event verbally without PC/game-mechanical interruptions, how would you even go about it? I’ve had issues with past attempts to weave narrative elements throughout an ongoing Skill Challenge. I would say I’m not 100% satisfied with the execution, but I think it was “good enough.” I will undoubtedly have future opportunities to refine this process.

The Experiment: Tournament

I did quite a bit of study into medieval tourneys, but was unable to find much regarding the structure of the “overall” proceedings, only the individual jousts themselves. Much of what I found (like accounts of William Marshall) was too early-period. The best source I have, still, is from Froissart, and that influenced much of the content for the session (and the next), though I did take some cinematic inspiration from A Knight’s Tale, and Ivanhoe, among others—the vast majority show one or two “focus” tilts, and assume the rest or show a montage of others. I also had to do quite a bit of digging into proper tourney armor for the “period.”

What I came up with is heavily influenced by my Action Challenge System (still in development). I wanted something in between tactical combat and a one-roll Quick Contest, allowing a strategic element on the PCs’ part but avoiding excessive die-rolling. The idea: for the PC and aggregated-opposition, one attack roll, one defense roll, one damage roll, and one roll for other damage-related effects (specifically Knockback/Unhorsing). The attack portion worked as expected. I had planned to treat the joust as a Stop Hit (MA108) but left that out at game-time as it felt like piling-on (I may put that back in, next time). I faltered a little at the defense portion: I ended up absentmindedly rolling for each defense separately, when I meant to treat it like autofire. The error with defense was compounded with the damage and effects rolls. As I continued to research armor late and after game-time, both historical and in GURPS, I found I had missed the separate “lance rest” item, and that Ser Kanneth should probably have been using a grand-guard rather than a shield. More and more, I also think it’s probably more accurate if the jousters take no defensive action at all and rely on their armor and technique to take the hit. And lastly, I discovered mid-session that I hadn’t fully developed how the damage and effects would affect the “number of wins,” forcing me to make some snap-judgements. Overall, it needs a little refinement, but I have Part II to sort that out. Of course, the difficulty will be increased for the next round of the tournament. I intend there to be a real possibility Ser Kenrick can lose—but if he wins?…

As to the lesser contests: the mêlée duels can be (and were) run the same as the joust, easily enough. Other less combat-oriented contests I left to a Quick Contest, though I would rather come up with something a little more crunchy for the future. PCs that have won prizes will be getting paid (cash, sort of) for the first real time in the campaign.

Miscellaneous

  • As mentioned in the previous post, Shelley (from our Friday f2f group) has been helping me write this stuff. This session and its sequel needed a lot of help, and got fiddled with quite a bit from where they started.
  • The Baroness Emilee Lovnote of Cortley wasn’t just an opportunity to mess with the PCs socially, but to exhibit the “courtly love” aspect of chivalry. The name “Emilee” is from Chaucer’s “knight’s tale.”
  • The mirror is the second “magic item” I’ve given the party, in the proper “fairy tale” tradition—which means it may be important later. But I didn’t think about how Murdok might be affected by it before it was introduced—that part was improvised—and now I’ve got potential consequences to deal with.
  • Ser Kenrick’s player had been joking for a long time about jousting the king in-disguise at the inevitable tournament, and I wasn’t about to disappoint—hence Ser Jondo Falsname’s appearance. I had actually wanted them to “speak” beforehand, both disguised, but that didn’t work out.
  • Once again, Dustan’s Duty fired off, and also for the next session. Figuring out what to do with these instances has been a challenge, but I’ve felt pretty happy about the (current and future) results—definitely justifiably inconvenient, while allowing him to continue to participate in the “adventure”
  • I had intended/expected this cliffhanger ending to occur before our scheduled two-week break, but there was a miscommunication in the scheduling

FGLE Chp II:V, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 4.5/5. Overall, this session went really smoothly, and I had a lot of fun with it. I should be really happy with how it turned out, but a few issues continue to (unnecessarily) nag me.

What Went Right

This was the second session assisted by one of the players from our Friday face-to-face game, Shelley. But it was the first I had approached her with, as it revolved around the character, Rayna Starkweather, which she had originally created (for a separate D&D campaign). Aside from help with the overall writing/plotting, she wrote Rayna’s letter to Ser Kenrick, worked out Rayna’s responses to some situations that would come up, and assisted in the development of the village and its residents. I took a little extra effort with the details in this one because I might possibly run a Generica campaign, or some variation, for the other group, centered around Guffin Hall. Meanwhile, Shelley has continued to assist with the remainder of the campaign run, and I’ve no doubt it is better off as a result.

Once again, I managed to pace the session out quite well, ending only a little short of the four-hour mark. It seems I have properly grasped how much we can get done in one session. But the next couple of sessions will test me, as there will be a lot to pack in.

I tried something a little different this time with regard to the Travel Montage. I had gotten into the habit of late, due to running more sandbox-like campaigns, of breaking up travel into one-day segments (or whatever). But, more recently, I had determined that treating the whole thing as a single “event” might be more efficient, and a bit more reminiscent of how one typically describes a long trip to one’s friends—better for when the daily travel grind isn’t the focus of the campaign. Therefore, in this session, I only had the PCs make one set of rolls for the overall trip, applying the speed bonus to the last leg (where it mattered), and making some assumptions about the rest. This is in addition to the other adjustments I’ve made to the mechanics regarding the effects of those rolls—I’ve back-seated a lot of the math, as unnecessary to the storytelling. Post-session assessment: I think it worked, but I may need to figure out a way to get some of the “color” back into the early part(s) of the trip. It was certainly faster, though. But this is worth a blog post of its own, or will be by the end of this run.

Dustan’s Duty fired for this session. My implementation went through a few rewrites before I arrived at the “big book” idea. The book’s dimensions were based on the “largest surviving medieval book,” the Codex Gigas (AKA The Devil’s Bible). I’m sure the players suspected some shenaniganry, but I was glad nobody suspected (or seemed to) an “oversized” tome. I didn’t think about them getting a cart, though…

I was really happy with the “romance cards.” I had decided that I wanted to let the secret of Kenrick’s/Maykew’s parentage out during this run, and this was an ideal opportunity to do so, but I didn’t have a solid idea how to deliver. It was late in the week when I thought of the cards, and it was just too good an idea not to find a way to make it work. Between sessions, it will be pretty much confirmed for Maykew that Lord Randyl was his father, and although Ser Kenrick won’t investigate further, he “knows.” Then there’s the “bookend” of Ser Kenrick visiting the grave of his mother, and seeing his father’s grave in the same session. It plays well with the “family” theme.

What Went Wrong

Once again, an excessively busy work-week left me a little high-and-dry, come game-time.

The Big Issue with this session: In spite of my success in the previous session, I completely failed the “Show, Not Tell” rule in this one. I realized my mistake as it was happening, but it was too late to fix it. Specifically, I failed by making a show of describing the (admittedly, perhaps, named a little too on-the-nose) Dodgyville as a “hive of scum and villainy,” rather than finding a way to demonstrate that characteristic through interaction. To be fair, I’m not exactly sure how I could have done that, but I should have tried to find a way, even though that description would evoke exactly the visualization I wanted. It was sloppy. It bugs me more than it should, I know.

The next biggest issue: I somehow missed that I hadn’t finished detailing the final battle dialogues or post-battle wrap-up, including the “catch phrase” (the “great fame and wealth unimaginable” bit), until I was executing that part of the game. I had to improv a lot of that, and I hate doing that, especially when that little twitch of panic sets in as I realize my error. Sloppy again. I intended to start improving my dénouements, and this sort of thing doesn’t help.

There were a few other even-more-minor errors…I’d probably call them “normal”:

  • I’ve found a tendency of mine, that I will sometimes go into some unnecessary exposition, especially when it comes to the history of a place (Bonnyfield, in this instance), that should either be “demonstrated” (see “Show, Not Tell” above) or left to the wiki.
  • There was a near-disaster when the PCs started talking about skipping picking up “the book” until the return-trip—I had planned for that eventuality, should they do so when they met with the scrivener, but not before they even entered the area!
  • The fact that I completely missed the first enemy turn in the final combat was unique to Fantasy Grounds, and a result of having Sorcil in the Combat Tracker, “skipped,” during the first fight, and forgetting to undo that later—just a SNAFU.

FGLE Chp II:IV, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 5/5. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the session “perfect,” but I also couldn’t (realistically) expect one to go much better, IMO.

What Went Right

  • I’ve been trying to do a little more “Show, Not Tell” for some time now—to the extent that one can in a TTRPG—by working bits of lore into conversations with NPCs, or through their actions. The “news reading” is a prime place for it, and I took advantage of a random kingdom event to tell about the Sentinels. I also feel like I did a decent job of “showing” NPCs’ traits and positions through action/conversation here. Obviously, I want to find more opportunities for this.
  • I went through the characters’ inventories before the game and discovered they actually didn’t have much that could be pick-pocketed. A couple of potions was the best I could do.
  • The fight in the slum apartment, as mentioned on the stream more than once, has to be one of the strangest combats I’ve ever experienced—but it was certainly entertaining. It was definitely not planned that way; “emergent storytelling” in evidence.
  • I came up with the “Lock and Key” concept during the Sea Dogs run. Although I have been using it here and there since then, this was the first time it came to the direct forefront—no idea why it only happened now. I’ll probably expand on that in its own blog post at some point, but the short version here is: the “lock” would have been if the PCs tried to appeal to their authority with the Gambees, in which case they would have taken a -4 to Influence, and the “key” was offering to take the arrows so the Gambees’ men don’t have to (also flattering Vigo’s intellect), in which case they got a +4. Kenrick’s player just happened to hit the right note.
  • Due to a busy work-week, I had to scramble a bit to get prepared. One of the problem-areas was the inclusion of the “black-hooded man” at the end. I needed to be able to deliver the catch-phrase and take off running without being immediately prevented, and it wasn’t till the last minute that it occurred to me to put him on the rooftop, which was perfect (and appropriate). Once again, Maykew’s player surprised me with (the same) spell; I hadn’t considered that at all—but it worked out, since I really wanted him to get caught. I think I would have rather gotten a proper Chase (Action 2) out of it, though. Next time.

What Went (Almost) Wrong

I went through some effort to get to the first fight at the right time, knowing how long these things usually take, so I could get the session done on time. I succeeded—maybe a little too much so. When the fight went rather more quickly than I expected, I was definitely worried the session was going to end up short, enough that I was considering turning the “Red Rondel” into a “real” fight. But I managed to allow the player discussions to drag just enough to negate the need.

A much-smaller issue: I adjusted the “bridges” news item really late before the game, with the “bleeps,” but at the time, I didn’t properly process how to actually read it aloud, resulting in some clumsiness with the delivery.

Miscellaneous

  • The “Halfling Mafia” is an old joke dating back to the origins of the Generica D&D campaigns in our Friday group, but had not seen production until this session. I had been looking forward to this day. The name, Gambee, is a mix of “Gamgee” from Lord of the Rings and the historical “Gambino,” suggesting a bit of a “Sicilian” flavor.
  • “Red Rondel” is a reference to the “Red Circle” club from John Wick
  • Garrett the Locksmith is an old D&D character of mine going way back to 2nd edition, and was, himself, a ripoff of the the protagonist from Thief: The Dark Project. I do miss playing that character…