Earthfall Season 1, GM Retrospective

Overall, I feel pretty positive about this run. The timing was less than optimal, and I felt like I was having to scramble the whole time to keep up. By the end of it, I was definitely ready to stop, despite player encouragement to continue. But there was also a good “energy” about it, and it definitely seemed like the players were having fun with it, as was I.

Lessons Learned

The Setting

Firstly, the setting for this campaign poses a problem I didn’t have with the campaign’s “spiritual predecessor,” that being the lack of a proper “mass die-off” of the human population. That meant whatever structures the PCs come across are likely to still be occupied by their owners, and operational to some degree. Not only could they not loot everything in sight, but I had to deal with more NPC encounters (mitigated somewhat by Wyoming’s low population). Secondly, unlike the typical zombiepocalypse, an organized “military invasion” doesn’t justify random alien encounters—realistically, they need to come from somewhere specific, for a specific purpose. Since the PCs followed a mostly-predictable path, I could usually work this out…usually.

Preparation, Again

The combination of requirements and limitations that come with online gaming and the more action-focused story demanded more of me than I was ready for. I had plenty to do for the first couple of sessions, but I didn’t have quite enough to work with midway through to keep things going smoothly. But this isn’t unusual. I was more satisfied with the handful of events where I more-or-less directly ripped off elements from movies. They felt more fleshed out and natural than my improvisations.

Early in the run, events ran on a prearranged timeline, which worked pretty well. After that schedule ran out, I started reflexively “steering” the PCs toward things I had prepared. It was late in the run when I realized I was doing this, so I overcorrected, resulting in my “horrible mistake,” which kinda ruined the ending—hoisted on my own petard.

Sandbox, Again

I had an easier time with the sandbox elements for this campaign’s predecessor, for some reason. I think the zombiepocalypse makes potential PC actions more straightforward, reduces the encounter population (as mentioned above), and makes encounters like “bandits” more believable. In the former case, the Monster Lake ranch would certainly have been unoccupied and free for looting, but in this case, I was lucky it was the weekend when they got there, or I would have had a bunch of NPCs to deal with—which I would have had to improvise on-the-spot, since I hadn’t expected that stop. I was a little surprised that having to cobble together a battle map from Google Earth in the middle of the game was not as bad as I expected, but it’s still a shame I can’t use it directly.

This campaign felt a little “patchy” to me; I didn’t have a clear sense of what was going on in the world. The population as a whole ended up standing around like a CRPG NPC waiting to be clicked to deliver their scripted dialogue. I should have had a basic idea of what the US military is doing, for one, and a disaster/evacuation plan for the civilians for another, at least. But now I have a better idea how the PCs will behave and interact, so I should be better prepared next time. For example, I clearly need a “Point of Contact” NPC for each settlement they pass through, assuming they keep to their Postman role. Also, as things progress, the quintessential “random encounters” may start to make more sense. I’m still using tarot to determine the situation in places the PCs visit, but I’ve been toying with having the players draw those cards during the game—might feel less scripted, but that’s a lot of pantsing during the game. I haven’t decided yet.

I tried to focus on keeping things energetic and progressing forward—I would say this was mostly successful, but there is definitely room for improvement. I need to keep Matt Colville’s words in mind: “This is boring. Someone needs to die!”

Other Points

  • For the aliens, I’ve been converting existing stats or coming up with new ones as they come up—not to mention redesigning the visuals—but that does mean they’ll be there for next time.
  • There were a number of points where I made some comment regarding the in-game situation that would have been better delivered by an NPC—I forgot about that lesson from Sea Dogs.
  • I never did succeed at getting James, Jr. in any serious danger to be rescued from, though I did come close once or twice. Gotta do better.
  • I skimped on the “Wilderness Travel” stuff from DF16 for the most part, mostly because I knew, in-game, it was going to be short-term. This may become more important as it progresses, but I will probably keep it simple anyway—at least, unless I can find a way to make it more entertaining. Plus having a functional truck means travel times are usually measured in hours, not days. I need to focus on the “montage” style delivery.
  • I need to do some more work on the Action Challenge System (ACS), and try to come up with some good scenarios to test it with next time. I’m fairly excited about its potential.
  • Post-session, we agreed that the next run will feature cooperation with X-Com, but not full-on employment by them

Next Time

There will be one. Soonish. The plan, as discussed immediately after the last session, is to try to make a quick turn-around. I do want to get in a full 12-session run next time. Of course, that means I really need to start prepping now

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