GM confidence: 3.5/5. I did not feel quite ready to run as I would like, from the start, but I felt it went pretty well. I can’t identify anything that went truly wrong, but I had a nagging, possibly-irrational sense that it could, somehow, have been better. But nevermind that…
I’m pretty happy with the PC lineup—not Sea Dogs good, but good. They go well with the campaign theme, I think. Plus, there is a little more potential for inter-party conflict than usual, which could be fun down the road.
The Manhunt Narrative
I led it off with something a little different (for me), that being a mostly player-led narrative sequence. I asked a few leading questions, in turn, and let them narrate the events that would lead up to the “actual” start. I would say it went pretty well—I expected it to—though it did result in a couple of unplanned elements. One: I intended the deputy to be accompanied by a partner (that I intended to kill off), and wasn’t wholly prepared for him to charge off on his own without him. Two: I had not even considered the addition of the EMT’s otherwise-inevitable partner. I “should have known better” in both cases. I briefly considered offing the EMT-partner, but decided against it—wouldn’t have been the same.
The “wake-up” scene garnered exactly the reaction I intended, by all accounts. The players did everything right, here, including playing up the suspicion that Heinlein might actually have killed the other deputy. There was a bit of a downside, though, in that they seemed to dawdle a bit trying to understand, and I had to nudge them forward. It’s no surprise to me that I kinda forgot about the EMT-partner, “Turk,” and he kept lagging behind my attention—there will undoubtedly be more surprise party-members that I need to keep relevant, so that’s something I need to try to improve.
The Long Road
I opted to keep the travel bits simplified here, as it isn’t the real focus of this part of the story. I wanted to keep it moving along. Aside from making people point fingers-of-suspicion at other PCs, I intended the dead deputy as a travel problem to overcome. It was at this point, as the PCs officially got under way, that the players started mucking up my not-so-careful plans and making me think on my feet:
- In the previous version of this campaign, which I ran for the face-to-face group, everyone followed along on Google Earth on the big screen, and could see what was ahead as it was encountered. In this case, the players were keeping track off-screen without being so directed, and, annoyingly, finding things I didn’t notice (like the “ranch”).
- I didn’t really consider how the campers might be equipped—things like bicycles.
- I didn’t look over the PCs’ gear as thoroughly as I had thought (or intended), and therefore didn’t notice the ATV—though, afterward, I think it would have been less of a problem than I thought at the time.
- I expected them to ask about horses. The “tractor” was definitely a surprise, though.
- After the overnight at Meeteetse, now with the tractor, I did not actually expect them to go back to the campground. I was afraid it would be a problem with the timing of things, but the tractor actually made up for that delay. A little too well, actually—they got to Cody a little earlier than I intended. (Afterward, I realize I could easily have thrown in some maintenance on the tractor to burn some daylight.)
I wasn’t happy with the stuff after the PCs’ arrival in Cody. It just felt muddy, rambling, to me. I made several admittedly-minor “story” mistakes. I struggled to figure out how to bring the other sheriff’s people into the scene. I made a huge rookie mistake—calling for a Physician roll without consideration for what happens if it fails. (Logically, that character should probably not have been treating the patient at the time, in the first place.) Finally, we were in an awkward spot for a proper cliffhanger, which forced me to jury-rig something at the last second. It probably turned out better than it felt to me at the time, but I will definitely focus on how to handle all that better in the future.