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 “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 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.
- 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.