Category Archives: General

Table News, 2 Aug 2017

It’s been a while… As usual, my GMing situation has fluctuated since the last run.

At the moment, a run of Forgotten GreyLancErron: Legends of Generica is imminent, within a month or so, but is going to be for the Olympus group instead, and will be using GURPS Dungeon Fantasy. It will likely be a short-ish stint, to be squeezed in between runs of Traveller. I’ll be definitely glad to see it finally in production, though, and have been hard at work on the details. The Olympus group has been streaming the sessions on Twitch and YouTube for some months now, and is expected to continue, which means that the Generica run will likely be available online for your watching/listening pleasure, for those so inclined. In the meantime, my worldbuilding progress can be seen on the Wiki. The recaps will probably be posted on the Olympus blog, but I’ll post some behind-the-scenes insights here.

The Supers campaign has been bumped, but not officially back-burnered just yet—but I had worked steadily on that one for seven months or so, and it was certainly time for a break. I made a rather large amount of progress on my Rule of Drama system.

For the Core Group, I’m still expecting to do another stint of Steel Ships & Space Marines when my turn comes back around, but I haven’t actually given it a great deal of thought yet—that should begin in earnest some time after this run of Generica occurs. But that’s far enough out that who really knows?

In other news, I, and over half of both groups, will be attending the 50th Anniversary of GenCon this year. This will be my first GenCon (but not my first con, in general). Lessons will be learned, elbows will be rubbed, etc.

Table News, 22 Jan 17

The last few months have been a little weird, when it comes to gaming for me. Due to the holidays and related absences, we ended up not gaming at all for either Friday (Core Group) or Saturday (Olympus) groups for about two months, and the Friday group for which I was up for GMing next was delayed a further three weeks due to bad weather, etc. During this extended downtime, my GMing situation also fluctuated wildly. As of two days ago, this is the current situation: starting this Friday I will be GMing my Steel Ships & Space Marines (which was previously to be ported into the Traveller setting, and has since been reverted), featuring a continuation from the previous one-shot (“The Sabo Affair”), for which two former-PCs will have moved on, but three more added (the player for one of which is not only new to the group, but GURPS as well); on Saturdays at some unspecified point in the hopefully-near future (after the S³M run has ended) I should be running a GURPS Supers campaign, which I will detail here as its time draws nearer—for now, the S³M campaign will have my more-or-less complete focus.

This means (a) I’m GMing again, and not a one-shot; (b) S³M will again see production; and (c) S³M setting stuff will get some needed updates and incorporate new sources. Session-reports will be posted here, though I’m not certain yet whether I will be doing that myself or someone else (Rigil Kent) will—in the latter case, I will likely be posting GM-specific insights on a per-session basis. So, there should be some activity here, coming up.

A One-Shot Across the Bow

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GURPS Sea Dogs, Adventure ½

Overview

Another GM in my Saturday group found himself having to slap together a game from scratch with naught but the week before to prepare it, and it ended up working out pretty well, so I wondered if I could pull it off myself. Then the opportunity arose the week prior to this writing, with some upcoming absences from the regular game, and I decided to give it a shot.

I had been wanting to run (or play in) a proper age-of-sail campaign for decades (literally), and have been considering such a campaign for this group, as it has virtually no genre overlap with anyone else’s campaign. But I hadn’t actually put any effort into it yet, so I would be starting from scratch, with only the week to make it happen.

Execution

It took me a few days to finally settle on the basic storyline: a small insurance company based out of Port Royal was about to pay out on a client’s ship lost to pirates, when said client received a ransom demand for the safe return of the ship’s crew—an unusual occurrence—through which the company was able to track down the pirate and his expected location. It would be far cheaper for the company to send some guys with a particular set of skills to retake the ship than to pay out for the loss.

My old Sea Dogs campaign that never saw production started in Nassau, which was also the primary location in the Starz TV series, Black Sails, and a notable spot in the Assassin’s Creed IV game. I chose to set the game there, as there should be plenty of material to work with. The target ship was a 100-ton sloop called McGuffin’s Prize, based on the ship in GURPS Supporting Cast: Age of Sail Pirate Crew for its GURPS 4e stats, captained by the silver-tongued Hans Olof, accompanied by his first-mate, a large African fellow named Chwengwe. Their opposition was a no-name French pirate called La Cage, who captained the brig, Antagonist (which I had to fudge some stats for, in the event they were needed); a brig was featured prominently in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, the Interceptor, for plenty of visual references. Captain Olof had convinced the pirates to send the ransom note in order to keep them from killing himself and the crew, knowing that it was highly unlikely that the ransom would actually be paid. Also noteworthy, La Cage had been recruiting crew for the new ship.

To expedite the inevitable planning session, I would use a mechanic I had employed once before, that is, “Planning Points”: a number of Impulse Buys for adjusting the tactical situation with the caveat that the changes had been “pre-planned.” I wanted to do a bit of social engineering in town and that sort of thing, but in order to keep it simple, and enough for one session only, I just stuck with a couple of combat encounters, which, with the planning that would involve, would be a tight fit.

For the characters, I really didn’t care too much what we ended up with. I was going to recommend GURPS Action templates until I remembered Pyramid 3/64 “Pirates and Swashbucklers” issue had a few Dungeon Fantasy “swashbuckler” templates. I created a basic character for everyone to use, at the 250-point DF standard; two of the players created their own, but they were both based on the same template. They were all Weapon Masters—serious badasses—and I knew they were going to wipe the floor (deck) with whomever they encountered.

Other minor points of interest:

  • I decided late in the process to use Nicholas Cage as the bad guy, thus named La Cage; I have a long-standing dislike of him as an actor (it’s nothing personal, really), and I like to work him into my campaigns to get punched in the face 😛
  • Rigil’s character was an homage to his now-retired Banestorm character, Gabriel
  • I had a hard time finding stats for the Antagonist. Low Tech has smaller and larger ships than this brig, but not the same, and 3e Vehicles has a smaller version of both the brig and sloop. I probably could have worked it out properly from Vehicles, but it wasn’t really worth the effort since I wasn’t planning any ship-to-ship combat (though a pursuit was possible).

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Synopsis

I started the PCs off at sundown, approaching the handful of pirates holding watch over the ships’ boats on shore, the McGuffin and the Antagonist, anchored together around 75 yards out in the Nassau harbor, just off Potter’s Key. Just trailing the PCs was the former crew of the McGuffin which had been rescued some time before, led by Captain Olof and looking a bit worse for wear from a couple of months neglected in the pirates’ custody—they elected to hang back until the all-clear was given. The only PC with skill in Tactics made the roll, with the others attempting to support; the support didn’t amount to much, resulting in three Planning Points to spend, which they held back for later. One of the PCs brought some bottles of rum, and the four PCs walked right up to the sentries and offered to share, claiming to be recruits. The sentries were caught completely by surprise when their new buddies produced their weapons in a flash and took them all prisoner, binding them and leaving them behind some nearby rocks, before making off with the boats. As GM, I was a little surprised the PCs let the sentries live, but whatever. 😛

After a bit of discussion—which pleased me not to take all night—the former-crew ended up taking two of the boats and rowing out ahead, taking cover in the darkness and waiting for the signal to approach, while the PCs took the third and rowed straight up to the brig, again pretending to be new recruits. I rolled 6d6 for the number of pirates aboard the two ships, and the PCs spent a Planning Point to reduce that number by 1d6, resulting in twenty; around half of them had muskets to hand, the rest cutlasses. La Cage was also aboard, arguing with the men over something-or-other.

As the PCs’ boat passed under the brig’s stern, Ronnke’s character slipped into the water and climbed up to the open gallery windows. They had spent another Planning Point to have an “inside man” disable the rudder—owing to my introduction of Hans Olof and Chwengwe, the players declared the inside-man to be a short, round fellow, wearing blue and white and whistling a lot. Once Ronnke’s character had entered the gallery, the inside-man handed him a dry pistol, while he reloaded one of his.

niccage-piratesI gave La Cage’s men a Reaction check against the newcomers aboard; I interpreted the “Bad” result as the pirates being unappreciative of the the interruption. But they also failed a Perception check to notice the ruse, so I declared Partial Surprise; the PCs won the initiative, and the pirates froze—only one round, though. The PCs went immediately to work butchering them mercilessly, with some minor, flashy heroics combined with some surprise Crit-fails/successes to make things a little more interesting. La Cage fell back across to the McGuffin to regroup but took a nasty spill running down from a cannon and face-planted on deck; Andricus’ character ended up stabbing him twice at random hit-locations: once through the back, the other through his manhood—this was actually unscripted. 😀 The fight lasted around seven seconds, with the enemy casualties a bit over half, the other half choosing to surrender.

Afterward, the signal was given for the old crew to join them. Some of the pirates were recruited to assist as well, and both ships were readied to depart, in no hurry since the pirates were no longer a threat.

Aftermath

The experiment worked out well enough. I managed to craft a decent night’s entertainment from scratch in the allotted week’s time, and probably had enough time to spare that, if I had wanted to spread it out over multiple sessions, I probably could have done more. Now I know, for me, it can be done. There were a few rules bits that I probably could have worked out beforehand, but that was pretty minor. My pacing was spot on; ended exactly when I intended. I was actually a bit surprised that the combat went pretty smoothly and quickly despite the numbers, though that was helped by only having four players to manage. I was also pretty happy with this second playtest of the Planning Points concept; this will undoubtedly be used again.

While I had already been considering a regular age-of-sail campaign, I don’t have any intention of it being a sequel/prequel to this one at all, though some of the characters or ships might certainly reappear in some form or another.

Universe Reaction

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AKA “The Universe hates/loves me”

Some time ago, I ran a Traveller one-shot that focused on a race-against-time to complete a rush-job. But as GM, I dislike arbitrating little things like how long someone has to stand in the queue at the bank, and in the case of this one-shot, it feels a bit like GM “cheating” anyway. So I came up with the concept of the Universe Reaction Check, to circumvent my arbitration-guilt. It works like this:

First, you mentally ask the question, “What is it the PCs are trying to do right now?” Then you figuratively turn to the Universe and ask if it will help or hinder their efforts, at which point you roll (for GURPS) an unmodified Reaction Check (B560) and consult the appropriate Request for Aid entry for the answer, as if it were an intelligent being with the power to smooth things along or get in the way. Simple.

In the case of the aforementioned one-shot, I translated this effect into minutes/hours/etc. of delay or acceleration of their timetable—because that’s what was at stake (a “base” time-increment will be required, though, to use it this way). But the effects would probably differ in other situations based on the PCs’ intentions. For example, if some post-apocalypse PCs are scrounging through some ruins for food, a “helpful Universe” would mean that some food is available at that location (the amount dependent on how helpful the Universe is feeling), and an “unhelpful Universe” would mean there is none to be found, or worse, an ambush awaits—this might be independent of whether or not the PCs are able to find that food, only indicating how much is available to be found. As some of the other GMs in both of my groups have started to use Universe Reactions in their games, I’ve seen it used during chases to determine if “suitable terrain” exists for a stunt. As it is, the concept is widely adaptable to any number of situations, but the more industrious GM could also build out more situation-specific Reaction tables for greater detail or less improvisation of effects.

Of course, the standard GURPS Reaction system allows for modifiers to the check, and that can still be incorporated. In the Traveller one-shot, a PC with Bad Luck insisted on penalizing those checks in his case. Conversely, “good” Luck is really just a favorable Reaction result, so one could reasonably treat is as an Influence success against the Universe. There’s no reason one couldn’t assign modifiers based on PCs “karmic” status, or add cumulative penalties as the adventure progresses to increase the stakes. Using GURPS Action 2, BAD could sensibly be applied as well.

Lastly, it is easily possible to use the same concept in other game systems, either using the GURPS check/table as-is or a similar mechanic from whatever system is being used.

Table News, 5 Jul 16

Work on the Traveller campaign continues, maybe less steadily than I’d like, but making progress. I expect I’ll be able to manage a short-term series without too much fuss, and perhaps more.

My “obsession level” regarding the Sketchup model of the PCs’ ship has diminished somewhat, but is certainly not gone. The model is nearing a sufficient level of completion (that is, it doesn’t leave a whole lot to the imagination anymore)—not that it’s a requirement for the campaign, just feeding my need to create/build things. I’m actually fairly excited about the results. I figure I’ll keep fine-tuning it for quite a while after. I’ll make the model available for download soon. After that, I expect I’ll be cleaning up the model I made a long time ago for Tamborro Station—needs a lot of work.

There was a bit of a surprise for me this month, with regard to the Olympus group. I was tossing some ideas about with Rigil, when I thought how interesting it might be to do a Stargate campaign based on the SG-1 TV series, but “rip off” the series, episode for episode, and see how PCs would do things differently, knowing that the resulting story would diverge entirely from the show at some point. Later, we ended up discussing the idea with the Olympus group in the pre-game downtime, and I discovered that the players there were all pretty big fans of the show, and were definitely interested. It wasn’t my original intent, but I decided it would be doable for me to GM it, so I ended up making an official pitch.

As it stands now: the TV show, SG-1, is the “Wormhole Extreme” (the parody show within the show) of the campaign, and the campaign itself the “true events” the show is loosely based on. The characters will differ: some will be playing show characters or amalgams, others new ones. The episodes will essentially be the same (for starters), but I plan to give them a more sensible and realistic treatment. As an actual Daniverse campaign, I will be replacing the show’s alien races and situations with mine—it will present some challenges, but the Daniverse has a lot of Stargate in its pedigree anyway, so it should all fit together nicely. This also means it’s going to transition to X-Com later. For research, I’ve got lots of TV show to watch—should keep me busy for a long time.

I want to do a short intro for the Stargate campaign as soon as possible, but the next opportunity looks like it will occur at the same time as the opportunity for the Core Group’s Traveller kickoff; given the respective table situations, Traveller is going to win out (I won’t run two at once), so the Stargate kickoff will probably be delayed. Inception will, of course, be back-burnered for now, but I definitely still want to run that at some point, so it isn’t dead.

Table News, 7 Jun 16

My prep-work for the upcoming Traveller campaign continues.

The last few weeks have been consumed by my work on a 3D model of the PCs’ ship in Sketchup. I’ve done this for the past two Traveller campaigns for the Olympus (Saturday) group, and they’ve proven to be very useful for visualization, and I’ve wanted to model this ship in particular for years, just because. Unlike the last ones, however, I plan to go into much greater level of detail in the model, if for no other reason than to see what I might be capable of. I’ve made a lot of progress, though there is much still to be done.

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The original design was a bit vague on some of the details, which I’ve had to make up as I go—part of the process. The “green” interior is a bit of an accident, though it’s grown on me, and I may keep it. I made a few minor mistakes in the original dimensions and such, which at the time I discovered them, were far too difficult to correct, so I just left them—you’d probably never know unless I pointed them out.

Table News, 9 May 16

Yeah, really late. Sue me 😛

I’ve been working on the new Traveller campaign for the Core Group (Friday). We had a get-on-the-same-page session in April, where we worked out the overall campaign issues and figured out the main characters. Essentially, it’s to be a more-or-less direct continuation of my S³M stuff, mixing Firefly and The Expanse, set in the Spinward Marches, with a “home base” on Denotam/Vilis; a bit of an underworld-focused techno-thriller. As part of my prep, I’ve been researching the upper-level politics of the area, and plan to feature more of the back-and-forth between the Imperial dukes than (most) other Traveller games I’ve played in. Also, I decided to use a lot of background material from our Olympus (Saturday) Traveller campaign, and will be coordinating with the regular GM for that one.

I was actually supposed to start running the week after the same-page session, but I just wasn’t ready. We decided to go ahead with the Pathfinder continuation, and I’ll step in after that (maybe a one-shot in the middle if we need a break).

Meanwhile, I haven’t had much to do with GMing for the Olympus group. We’ve got a lot of material to work with over there, and more potential GMs, especially now that we’ve established the concept of guest-GMs in regular campaigns. I suppose I’m still planning to do Inception there, but I haven’t even looked at it in ages, and I’m well past the point where I usually start waffling over what to run. That said, I expect the Core Group Traveller campaign will occur first, so I’m throwing all my energy into that one.

GURPS Traveller, “The New Deal” 1Shot.4

GM Perspectives and Introspectives

For the better part of February, I stepped in as guest-GM of my Saturday Traveller campaign. The nature of the overall campaign’s construction allowed for easy swapping of GMs, which would give the regular GM a chance to play in the campaign for a change. Plus, I had some stuff in mind that I wanted to see that, when presented with the guest-GM idea, made sense for me to run as guest-GM instead of waiting for the regular GM to get to it. I just needed the right opportunity, certain conditions met, to set it up. This would be my first GMing foray for this year, and the first since the Inception one-shot over a year prior.

Overview

In our regular Traveller campaign, we tend to hand-wave, for the sake of time/mundanity, the day-to-day operational details discussed at length in GURPS Traveller: Far Trader. I wanted to deliberately focus on those details, if for no other reason than to have that experience to reference, at least once. A countdown—like a race, or a tight schedule—would be an excellent justification for that level of focus; by taking each step of the process and introducing delays or other obstacles to on-time completion there would be plenty of content for a session or two.

As I started working on the one-shot when the time came, I also decided to take the opportunity to bring up a number of Disadvantages amongst the PCs—Enemies, Secrets, Duties and the like—which had gone neglected for whatever reason, and use those as the adventure’s obstacles. One such Trait came from the regular GM’s new character, Eddy, his Secret (Some Crime)—which turned out to have been removed when I wasn’t looking—to be represented by the appearance of a bounty-hunter which would threaten to expose said Secret by causing the others to ask “why?” This would be the centerpiece of the adventure. (I kept the bounty-hunter storyline anyway after I realized the Disad was removed.) I did not do any actual work on the content, that is researching and writing things down, until the week prior to the run—intentional standard procedure for me, of late, but I really wanted to keep this simple. I did not have a specific target for how many sessions the run would take up, but once I had the content sorted, I figured it would be at least two, maybe three—which turned out to be correct.

Dramatis Personæ

The PCs, for reference.

There were only two NPCs that I “officially” cast: Maaq Mountain (Dwayne Johnson, a mix of his characters from The Rundown and Fast and Furious 6) and Ulysses Pitt (Nick Chinlund, a “Tooms” ripoff from Chronicles of Riddick)—and crew. I didn’t stat them out, but I did have a general idea of their capabilities and background. I had a “face” in mind for the brokers, but I did not present that to the players—these were throwaway characters, really, and I didn’t want to lock in those actors. Truman Park (Matt Damon, from The Martian, specifically) was an on-the-fly addition—details on that later.

Execution

Pre-Game

I wrote my own PC, Haank, out of the story, taking the opportunity to focus on an aspect of the character that hadn’t gotten much attention—he’s a “serious” golfer. Porozlo has a perfect environment for golfing, and the “celebrity tournament” made it something Haank would definitely not miss (and nobody would make a fuss). I had him take Valerie along to remove her from the crew’s concern, with the good excuse of getting her off the ship and in the open air for a while, something the character desperately needed. Haank also normally saw to the ship’s business interests ashore, his absence meaning that some PCs would have to perform jobs they weren’t accustomed to—intentional, to get them involved in those day-to-day details.

There are a number of mechanical adjustments/experiments I intended to use (as usual), as follows:

  • The “rush job” was specifically intended to create the “countdown,” to generate the dramatic tension for the story. I had already planned for Haank to get his HAZMAT certification at Rhylanor, so a hazardous cargo was a natural choice. I pre-generated the other outgoing freight and passengers, which turned out to be quite a lot—commerce between Rhylanor and Porozlo is very heavy, as it turns out—and this locked in the PCs’ intermediate stop at Porozlo, which was important to the PCs, due to their previous visit. I had to scour the books to find the standard deadline for freight, on TFT28; I worked out the tightest possible schedule for the rush job’s deadline.
  • My original plan was to have the bounty-hunter 24 hours behind the PCs as another countdown, giving them that window to get in and out of port before he arrived, but as I started to work out the details, specifically, how fast his ship would be compared to the overall transit time, I decided not to force it—it wasn’t really needed, and having the bounty-hunter at port at the same time would force them to get creative. I went over the Traveller: Bounty Hunters book a couple of times to get the background squared away—the bounty did not originate from the judicial system, but it was technically legal (all the paperwork was filed), though by private parties for private reasons.
  • I originally planned to give out points at the end based on Victory Conditions. One of those conditions, specific to Eddy’s player, was that, at the end, the other PCs were not made aware (in character) of the true nature of his “Some Crime” committed—of course, that was before I found out the Secret had been removed. I was a bit disappointed that it was no longer applicable; I really wanted to see how that might turn out in the end. The other Victory Conditions I had in mind were like “On-Time Delivery” and “Eddy Leaves with the Ship.” But I don’t like setting conditions like that without a tangible threat of failure, and I don’t like surprising the players with unexpected changes to the reward system, nor did I want to end up arbitrarily inflating point gains. In the end, I didn’t have a solid plan by game-time, so I dropped it; the conditions were all met anyway.
  • The potential for delays was going to be central to this adventure, but I didn’t want to arbitrate that sort of thing, so I came up with the “Universe Reaction Check.” It’s an otherwise-normal Reaction roll (B560), in the “General” category, with the results applied to the universe/environment. In this case, I didn’t have a fixed set of effects, I just gave them a delay in minutes for a Poor result, or hours for a Bad result, etc., and a Good result let them sail right through, unhindered. It actually worked pretty well—even got used by other GMs in other games afterward—but it’s not something you’d want to use all the time, just when it counts.
  • We had not dealt with “jump masking” before in the campaign (TFT60). I planned to introduce it here, and as it turned out, both Porozlo and Rhylanor were always masked. Fulacin was another matter; it was listed as being masked, but those “abstract” statistics assume a much closer position than the mainworld actually occupied—not to mention the lack of an allowance for binary systems. In the end, I eyeballed it, and decided the Fulacin mainworld was too far to be masked at all. I’ll have to figure out a better way sometime.
  • I used a system in my S³M campaign that allowed a Piloting or Navigation check to reduce trip time by fine-tuning the plotted course. As the timetable for this mission might come down to “hours,” it was a good fit here, and something I wanted to see in the regular campaign anyway. However, I didn’t realize until I began to use it in the game that, because of the way GURPS Traveller presents insystem trip calculation (via tables; TFT59-61), my old method needed some tweaking—Traveller gives the shortest route at the start, whereas my old mechanic assumes a less-efficient result that can be shortened. On top of that, the Traveller tables cover the conditions rather broadly, non-specific, resulting in a level of inaccuracy I don’t think is warranted. So, I ended up winging it a bit when it came up. After the run, we sorted out the details, and may use the adjusted version in the future in the regular campaign.
  • I planned to use what I refer to as “Reverse Influence”; the idea is to have the player make a secret Reaction or intended Influence Skill roll (being Fantasy Grounds, this would be “in the box”) immediately when the character meets the NPC, and after-the-fact, through dialogue and/or identification of effective modifiers that might apply, adjust the results of the Quick Contest throughout the encounter. (It’s usually done the other way around—figure up everything first, then roll.) The idea is that the encounter would play out in a more “natural” flow, the NPC responses and attitudes changing as a result of the changing Quick Contest results. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like this got the attention it warranted; I did do the rolling up-front, but there were no pre-prepared social encounters, and I didn’t brush up on Social Engineering beforehand like I should have. For what it’s worth, I didn’t encounter any problems with what was implemented, but Inception is expected to center around the social stuff, so I expect the mechanic to get a proper field-test there instead.
  • I’ve always wanted to see a bit more “color” when it comes to daily maintenance on a typical far-trader or similar vessel, and have used various mechanics to generate this sort of thing in the past. This time, I used tarot: I drew one card for each leg (in this case: pre-flight/takeoff, transit, entering jumpspace, during jump, exiting jumpspace, transit, and landing/post-flight) of the trip. On a draw of a Major Arcana, I rolled against the ship’s HT score (10); on a success, I worked out a “cosmetic” incident based on the card, and on a failure, an actual problem. For example: the artificial gravity cutoff was a failure (the card was Moon, Reversed), and the bad sensor a minor (9 of Wands). I figured the severity of whatever mishap occurred would be affected by the overall level of preventative maintenance done regularly aboard the ship, which in this case was properly and skillfully managed, so the repairs would be a small matter—I knew that would be the case, so I didn’t bother coming up with a system for that. I liked how it worked out, overall, and we discussed keeping it (or something like it) going after my run ended, though it was agreed that there should be fewer rolls per trip for that sort of thing—we’ll see how that goes in the future.
  • I continued to use tarot to generate a little extra color for encounters and such. It’s still working for me, plus I’m getting better at reading them. For Traveller, though, it feels a little funny to use a Medieval-themed Rider-Waite deck—something more “technological” would be more appropriate.
  • I broke up the events into 1-hour blocks and sorted them into a rough timeline, though some events would have to be plugged in as they happened. I had pre-figured the flight details, and knew the bounty-hunter would be landing at 3 hours after the PCs; I gave him a d6 hours to locate Eddy, then he would wait for an opportunity to take him. I used combat sequence to organize PCs’ actions throughout—this worked pretty well to maintain focus.
Mid-Game

I had no real plan for breaking up the adventure once it started, but I guessed pretty well where the breakpoints would likely fall;. The second and third sessions benefited from extra time for polish and research. Here are some miscellaneous points-of-interest from after the game started:

  • Eddy has the Bad Luck Disadvantage. I fully intended to use it, probably to get him captured at the end. Instead, the player decided to use it on himself throughout the adventure, to generally-hilarious result. He insisted on rolling the Universe Reactions himself, and applied anywhere from a -6 to -10 penalty; one such failure was Eddy’s date interruption by the bounty-hunter.
  • At the time of the first session, I had not yet discovered a base time-period required to find freight. I did find a reference by the second session, Spaceships 2 p.41, that lists it at two days. This meant the PCs would be “rushing” their search, doing it in half the required time. I left the lots I had rolled up previously as-is, but adjusted the pricing down to compensate for the rush.
  • For the “bank” scene, I drew Queen of Cups—a romantic encounter. Before the scene, I had not considered that the subject might be Ella (the only female PC)—not that it changed anything, really, but with Abe’s encounter with Katelyn at the same time, I didn’t want to pile on. I told Ella’s player that she had seen a guy that was definitely her type, and had her tell me what that type was (rather than try to guess). I gave myself the week between sessions 1 and 2 to figure out what to do with him. Ella has had a rough time since the start of the campaign, and I felt like she needed a break, but at the same time, I couldn’t pass up a chance to mess with her a little, so I made him “too good to be true,” natural PC-paranoia inevitably suggesting him to be some kind of monster-in-disguise. Then I engineered the “date,” fully expecting she would be out of commission for a while as a result.
  • One time-slot in session 2 had multiple characters passing through the security checkpoint separately, in or out. I had them (and the bounty-hunter) each roll a single d6, and on a match, they would see each other as they passed through. They all missed each other in session 2, but another instance in session 3 had Ella and Abe encountering the bounty-hunter and Eddy.
  • The “chase” in session 2 was unplanned, but we’ve used the Action 2 mechanic often enough in this group that it wasn’t difficult to improvise. I did find myself a bit confused at the results of failed Stunt rolls; I still think following up the failed Stunt round with a round of “recovery” feels weird—but that’s another story. The appearance of the monorail was player-agency. I drew a tarot card; I don’t remember the card drawn, but the result was “no luck”—I felt at the time that it should mean the train was out, but I wanted to give it a chance, so I decided it would be leaving. The handling of the failed Stunt that followed is probably my one real GM-fail; I wasn’t prepared for potentially-lethal consequences, and would have benefited from more time to think that through. In retrospect: I should have grabbed an image to work from, so we were all seeing the same thing; I should have used random hit location to determine what part of Eddy got caught; and I should have referred to Escape Artist for Eddy getting loose.
  • I ended session 2 at the point where the PCs would be starting their rescue plan intentionally, to give them the week to think it over. In session 3, I planned to use the Action 2 “Planning” (p.17) mechanic to manage this—I wanted to test the concept for Inception. I skipped the “Big Picture” as unnecessary in this instance. When it came time, Sae ended up taking over the planning, and made the Tactics roll; I intended to give them some Plot Points at 1 per 2 points of success, but the roll ended up being made by 0-1, so they didn’t get any. If the roll was better, they would have been allowed to use those points to apply player-agency to the situation, even retroactively, saying “they planned for that.”
  • I took a short break once the bounty-hunter reached out for the booby-trapped handle to think over the situation, and the first thing that jumped out at me was a “cardiac-arrest,” so I went over the Basic rules for electric shock. As it turned out, the trap ended up doing just enough damage that, with the associated penalty, had the bounty-hunter failing the HT check by 1—if it hadn’t, I might have fudged it anyway; it was both convenient for the GM (wrapping things up nicely) and hilarious to the players. Sae’s critical failure to diagnose was icing on the comedy cake.

Synopsis

Session 1 RecapSession 2 RecapSession 3 Recap

Aftermath

GM Confidence: 5 of 5. Unusually, I did not experience the pre-GMing “dread” I normally do—I was really looking forward to running this one, maybe because it had been so long. Right from the start, I felt like it really went well; it had a really good energy to it, the pacing was fairly snappy, and I felt like the players were having fun with it. There was no combat, when it was all over—not planned as such, or intentionally avoided, it just wasn’t needed.

For the down-side: I really don’t have much to complain about, though there are a couple of minor things I would have liked to have done better. Specifically, the third session, after the bounty-hunter had been dealt with, felt a bit flat to me—too much like the wrap-up it was. And overall, I felt like there wasn’t enough for Sam to do; I felt like he had been left out, a bit.

Overall, I felt good enough about it that I pitched a straight-up Traveller game (borrowing the characters and other stuff from S³M—essentially, a continuation of that campaign, but in a new setting) to the Friday face-to-face group, and will be running it next, in place of Terra Nova (which I still intend to get to one day). As it happens, my turn is coming up in a few more weeks, so this one won’t be lingering in pre-production for very long. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how it goes.

Table News, 7 Jan 16

Another year has passed. Within that year, I did not GM at all—that’s not so unusual, though I’d rather it were otherwise. I need more practice, more repetition, if I am ever to become comfortable behind the screen.

That said, I did do a lot of prep-work that I expect to pay off in 2016. Terra Nova is nearing a playable, possibly sustainable state, and I expect it to see production this year, though I couldn’t say how soon. The Inception kickoff is still in the works, but I haven’t looked at it in a while; this one will likely come up sooner than Terra Nova, but again, I am unsure of when that would be. On the side, I have that potential guest-GM one-shot for Traveller in mind, which I still expect to occur—sooner than the rest—and I have been picking at the Forgotten Greylance setting a little here and there (which could end up in GURPS instead, or remain as D&D). There aren’t any other GMing projects I am actively pursuing right now, but it’s early yet.

I’m eager to get back to it, and maybe more confident than not. Just waiting for the wheel to turn my way once again.

Stories We Tell

storybook_by_fictionchick-d58kf7e

I was playing GURPS Traveller with the Saturday online group as a favorite character of mine, Haank, a half-Vilani polymath, and the PCs’ ship’s loadmaster. He was in a spaceport bar with a couple other shipmates when an altercation started between his PC Vargr crewmate and another alpha Vargr in the bar, attempting to establish dominance for…reasons. When Haank got involved, I actually had a story in mind to tell within the scope of this encounter, a “narrative” that I mentally played out as I decided to contribute, and how—not something I did consciously, just a normal part of the decision-making process. In this case, the picture in my head had Haank stepping up and casually putting the alpha into an arm-lock submission hold, and intimidating his followers to back down. That’s not how it went down, of course. Before it was over, Haank ended up getting punched hard in the face, having been entirely unsuccessful; we “won,” in the end, but a bit messy.

Though I failed to achieve it, I had a mini-story I wanted to tell at the time, through the character’s actions; I’m calling it “the Narrative.

I think the above is a process everyone goes through when they figure out how their character will respond to an encounter. I suppose one could try to focus on this encounter-level Narrative consciously, to better organize their actions throughout the encounter, but I really don’t see much “extra” benefit from doing so. No further consideration is necessary.

That said, what could be beneficial is to “scale” this process up, to consider the character’s Narrative with respect to the entire (or partial) campaign—this is something I do not believe regularly occurs on a conscious level. Using Haank as an example: when I created the character, I didn’t fully consider how I wanted that character to grow and progress after the campaign started, or what kind of story his would/should be. As a result, I’ve been waffling over how to improve the character over the course of the campaign, and if I were asked, I would have a hard time providing the GM any Haank-specific story guidance. It should be easy enough to figure out a proper Narrative during the creation process—essentially, the reverse of a back-story. It would probably be best as something brief, like a one-liner, but could be as detailed as the back-story. Like the above encounter, this Narrative would never be expected to survive the campaign’s events, and should change along with it, but a vague direction to press toward would be helpful for suggesting later character improvement, and other story-related elements along the way. This benefits the GM as well, and possibly also the other PCs’ interactions, if made available to them, though it need not be.

In Haank’s case, I’ve decided to make his Narrative this: that by the end of his life-story, he should become the Most Interesting Man in the Galaxy—it’s suitably vague, enough to survive for a while, but still gives me something to work with. I might change it, or refine it as we go, but there it is.

Additionally, as I considered these things, I realized that my Terra Nova campaign lacked a Narrative as well. It’s probably common for an open-world/sandbox campaign to lack any kind of story focus—in some ways, it’s the point—but it can help, I think, to have an idea what kind I want to tell. For example, a Narrative like “Survival against all odds” can flavor the campaign differently than “Wilderness of Mirrors.” That Narrative can suggest mechanics, antagonists, encounters, which can reinforce it—“Survival” might suggest a lot of disasters, while “Mirrors” might suggest a focus on subterfuge and spies. I’m still trying to decide where I want to go with that one, and with the other campaigns in my active queue.

So, there you go. Try to tell a story, and even if it fails, the overall experience will likely be better for it.

As a side note, I want to give a shout-out to Extra Credits. I’ve lately been watching a lot of their YouTube videos about game-design philosophy—they’re talking about computer games (or in some cases, CCGs), but the philosophy is the same regardless of the medium. The videos are really entertaining and informative, and have been a big inspiration.