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.
- 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