GM Confidence: 4/5. Saying “I was under-prepared” is becoming a trope, I think, but it was definitely true in this case. That said, it went pretty well overall, and ended right where I wanted, so I really can’t complain.
I had an extra week to work on this one, and it was somehow still not enough. I just couldn’t get properly motivated, nor inspired. I decided, some time after mid-week, that I needed a “random ninja attack” (not literally) to raise the stakes a little. This would pad out the time considerably, and allow me to make more use out of less “content,” and let me relax a little. In the end, I didn’t even get to the combat—the rest was perfectly fine.
I knew there was going to be a lot of exposition here, and I needed a way to keep it from falling into a maelstrom of random questions and answers, or worse, my putting everyone to sleep with droning on for an hour or two. I decided to employ something I had experimented with in Generica (S2E06 and S2E07 tournament stuff, and the “Tour Montage” from S2E09). I’m finding I really need a name for this thing; for now, I’ll call it the “Social Montage.” There are three things I wanted to keep in mind (thanks in great part to Filmento’s review of Minority Report for the reminder):
- Make sure there is a clear goal
- Keep things moving toward that goal
- Put obstacles in the path of that goal
I laid out the knowns and unknowns before we got under way, so everyone had an idea what to ask about. The use of a “combat map” was definitely to make the players a little paranoid about a possible attack, but also to set up proximity that might suggest conversation partners. I broke everything up in turns so the players wouldn’t step all over each other, scheduling the more talkative characters first to give the less talkative ones time to process. I tried to use the NPCs to bring up questions and subjects the players might not have considered, and highlight aspects of their character, while avoiding NPC-to-NPC dialogue (which always feels clunky). (The main NPCs also had their own “goals” for the night.) I set up the “stages” to keep the scene from becoming too “static,” and give a better sense of the passage of time. I wanted to introduce more “obstacles,” but the warning letter was all I could think of at the time—it did help with raising the tension, at least. I really wanted to make the characters “earn” deeper, more important information—another part that could have used a bit more thought. The “lines” themselves were very deliberate, for the most part. For example:
- Boissonade’s back-and-forth with Inara at the beginning filled in Payne on what he’d missed from the letter (that Artegal burned) and demonstrated Inara’s wit
- Inara’s question about Read’s lack of a wife was one the PCs likely would never have asked on their own
- Ulysse’s question about “what to do with the treasure” was meant to prompt the players to think about it—this may be important in the future
- Demonstrated Ulysse’s seamanship, and Remi’s autism
It did get a bit messy. Some parts occurred out of sequence, or I had put them in the wrong place. I didn’t expect Rogers to go spying on Remi—which I realized afterward should have been an obvious move. I didn’t expect Hayden to “disengage”—I still don’t know what that was about. Afterward, I realized I should have refreshed the knowns/unknowns at the beginning of each stage, as reinforcement and a measure of progress. It would have also been helpful to establish some “personal” objectives for the PCs other than Sir Randel, and have some backup plans for when they inevitably run out of ideas. As with the attempts in Generica, I think this is still a good idea that needs a bit more work to make it truly shine.
Deciding to use The Hunt (Monster Hunters 2 p.4), here, was a very late addition that would likely have been improved if I had thought of it earlier. As with previous iterations, I gathered up the questions—Who, What, When, Where, Why—and figured up their penalties ahead of time per the MH2 criteria, along with assessing the appropriate skills and traits needed for Deductions and clue-gathering. As written, though, it’s a lot of die-rolling. This time, I decided to use the “Take 10” mechanic—assume an average roll of 10, rather than rolling it, and let the clue-bonuses accumulate until the “roll” actually succeeds. When I started, though, I was using the Group Roll concept—which I still need to cover separately at some point—but realized too late that if using the Take 10 mechanic, I could have let them have their individual results instead. (The purpose of the Group Rolls is to reduce laborious and counterproductive die-rolling which was already taken care of.) But the real difficult question for me was whether or not to announce that I was using The Hunt at the beginning, so everyone knows what to do, or hope they get the idea on their own and it develops organically—obviously, I opted for the latter. They’ve got a pretty solid answer for Who and What, now—even before the super-obvious reveal at the end—and some good progress toward the others.
In the end
I could’ve certainly used more time to apply a little more polish (but I know that would have just given me longer to procrastinate, instead). My plan to end with a fight didn’t materialize; I’ll probably use that to kick off the next session instead. Ultimately, though, I feel like my attempt to ramp up the tension was successful. The story moved noticeably forward, and didn’t lag too badly. I gave some answers, that lead to more questions. That’s a good result.
- Claude’s player was out this week, recovering from a surgery, so I took the occasion of his “shyness” at the end of last session to write him out—made things nice and neat. Some of the stuff I had planned for Claude will show up next time, instead, probably.
- The “snake” was the first time Spenser has seen a “spell effect” with his new abilities, though he doesn’t know what it means
- I realized just at the reveal that I had the PCs on the wrong side of the fort—the sun needed to come from the West to reflect off whatever-it-was, but they kinda needed to be on the East side to see it properly. Oops 😛
- The riddle—good or bad—was my own creation; I didn’t crib that from somewhere else
- Spotting the “meeting on the beach” from the fort was an in-the-moment ass-pull; it might not have happened at all, otherwise—it wasn’t really a “mile” away, though; that was unintentional hyperbole
- The “Bright Boy” reference from The Howling is right where I wanted to end the session, and a scene I desperately wanted to make happen. Also, this is the first direct contact with a supernatural enemy (that they know of), and the first time Davino’s monster-of-the-week/Hunters “Enemy” has caught up to him in an obvious way.