How Did It Go?
Overall, I felt pretty positive about this adventure. I felt comfortable behind the screen, throughout, for the most part. I didn’t have to struggle with the players to get them from Point-A to Point-B. There were some missteps along the way, but I think I learned from them, so the experience wasn’t wasted.
Things That I Felt Had Gone Well
- I did quite a lot of worldbuilding for this campaign, and it didn’t go to waste. I had specific pieces of information I wanted to impart, and other than the accidental skipping of the herald at the beginning, I managed to hit all the high points I intended. My preparations helped give the world a solid, not squishy feel.
- I’m getting better at improvisation. I was following YouTube advice to never say “I don’t know,” which meant being prepared for improvisation (if that’s possible), and I can’t think of an instance where it failed me.
- I felt like the humorous tone worked and was well-received. I was worried the “Is that all of you?” running-joke had gone unnoticed until someone finally commented during the last session.
- I consider the experiment of using a hidden, communal pool of Plot Points to have been a success. Though they didn’t end up using half of the pool, we didn’t end up with the usual of one or two players burning through them all while the rest hoard them.
Things That I Felt Had Gone Less Well
- The Paragon/Renegade mechanic was intended to be used, but the players forgot about it. I intentionally didn’t prompt them, either—it really needs to be the player’s idea, not mine. I wasn’t sure the mechanic was a good fit anyway, and since it didn’t get used, I’ll just drop it from now on. No big deal.
- I was disappointed with the way the players didn’t seem to fully engage with the world in some instances. I have mentioned before how, when giving out mission information, I had intentionally left out details so as to encourage interaction, but questions weren’t asked (much). But there is also the matter of the ride-along NPC, Aidin, who had a backstory and all, but none of the players/characters ever bothered to engage with him in any meaningful way. One would be justified in blaming the players for an atypical lack of PC-curiosity, but the GM does share that blame for failing to provide enough reason to engage. Sadly, I have neither explanation nor remedy at the moment.
- Players “going passive” is a peeve of mine as GM. They’ll sit idle until the GM spoon-feeds them the next plot-point or mindlessly follow whichever player will speak up. Sometimes a player that is normally a “contributor” will clam up for no apparent reason—I’ve caught myself doing it as player from time to time. It’s an old issue that every GM has to deal with, and I’ve learned to live with it over the years. More recently, I’ve been heeding online advice to avoid attempting to “correct” it, as it’s just how some folks enjoy the game. Overall, it wasn’t a big problem in this adventure, but it did happen occasionally, and it bugged me when it did. I wouldn’t even bring it up, but I’m beginning an effort to understand why it happens, and maybe figure out what those players need in that moment to get them to re-engage.
- I’ve always had a problem with running large groups. Even with only six (my usual maximum) here, there were instances where I noticed a player would be typing his “story” in chat, but it was ultimately lost to the lengthy verbal discussion going on at the time. I was fortunate in this case that a couple of our players took a break, or the group would have been even bigger—next time, this may not be the case.
Things That I Need To Get Better At
- I usually enjoy when a player wants to do something crazy; I try to encourage out-of-the-box thinking. But my neurotic nature causes me to point out all the ways it can’t work; I have an unconscious tendency to shoot it down. Following online advice, I’ve been trying to say “Yes” or “Yes, but…” rather than “No” as often as possible. I don’t think I quite got there, but I was trying.
- I caught myself trying to prevent a PC from accomplishing this-or-that on an occasion or two (in some cases, with no valid reason I could determine afterward). This goes along with the “wanting” problem I was dealing with in the latter half of the adventure, which I detailed at length in another post already. Lesson learned, hopefully.
- Another bit of online advice I was attempting to follow is to never tell the player what their character thinks or does. The “right” thing to do is to give them the facts and conditions and let the player announce the character’s reaction. I have to fight this sometimes; it’s harder than it sounds. It’s only a minor point, but it still needs work.
- I’ve said before (offline, at least) that nearly every disagreement at the table is the result of some sort of miscommunication. So I use a lot of images. It gets everyone on the same page regarding what’s there or not, especially for combat/action scenes where those details become more important. Even so, there were instances where I left out key information the players needed to make proper decisions until late in the process. I need to make a better effort to pause the action and describe all the particulars, especially as they relate to decision-points of the encounter, before the PCs commit to their actions. On a similar note, we’ve had differing opinions about appropriate “cinematic” behaviors, and a lack of prior agreement results in occasional actions that I have to say “No” to. It’s surprisingly difficult to communicate what should be allowed or not, but that discussion is something that needs to occur, before the game (not in the middle of combat).
- Player agency has always been a goal of mine as designer of an adventure or campaign, hence my usual focus on “sandbox” mechanics, or “emergent” stories at least. As a part of that focus, my intention was to place the major NPCs into the world, and give them motivations to pursue, rather than a script to follow. This really didn’t come up until the latter half of the adventure—the townies and mercs were mostly unscripted. I suppose the idea worked out, but I don’t know if this limited run is really the best example of its efficacy. Next time should be the real test.
In the Future
My expectation is that it will be quite a while before my (full-length) turn behind the screen will come up again. This campaign might be ideal for a one-shot here and there, though. Additionally, the Core Group is going to be playing a remastered version of Return to the Keep on the Borderlands in Generica setting, which I expect to give me more bits to fill out as it goes along, while I try to spare a brain-cycle or two for the next series.
In retrospect (watching some Matt Colville), I realize my mistake with Aidin was in not having some conflict/tension with the PCs that required their interaction. Lesson learned…maybe.