Sea Dogs, Chapter I:III, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM Confidence: 4/5. I thought this one went pretty well. Seemed like the players did too.

It started off with the “recap.” I basically went back over the whole previous session and straightened out the timeline, adding in all the elements I forgot, like making the planning rolls, introducing the crew properly, fixing some mistakes, etc. Regarding the planning roll: this was the second time I’d used it, borrowing heavily from mechanics established in Dungeon Fantasy 16: Wilderness Adventures, but due to the changes I’ve made since the previous usage, the PCs ended up with a lot more Plot Points to spend. We’ll see how they get spent. I had to retract my former advice regarding “leaving with the tides” as well—I know quite a bit about nautical matters these days, but I’ve still got plenty to learn—and that significantly changed the PCs’ post-sabotage plans once the regular timeline was resumed. I wanted to keep the whole thing short, but it ended up taking half the session. Oh, well.

Claude’s player decided to drop out of the group, at the last minute. It is a little disappointing, but it will be easier to run with fewer players, so there’s some benefit. Ironically (and conveniently), her Secret fired this session; it ended up playing out without her, and I was able to work it into one of the random events.

This was the first session where (finally) the PCs took to the open sea. That meant it was the first time making in-game use of the sailing spreadsheet stuff, which worked pretty well, but I discovered it needed some improvements (some of which I’ve already made). It was also the first time using the departure/under-sail/arrival checklists, which meant a lot of die-rolling—I was afraid that would be a mess. Afterward, I think it felt about right. The “repetitive” feel of it is entirely intentional; it’s an aspect of the life I wanted to get across, though it’s possible I’ll start allowing them to Take Average on those rolls down the road.

I’m using the “Interesting Times” interpretation of my Universe Reaction rolls to handle daily random encounters, which I combined with tarot to determine the nature of generated events. I did find myself hesitating a bit at first, but I think I’ll get used to it. It might be a good idea to come up with a few crewman/ship-specific events ahead of time, rather than the more generalized list I currently have. After-the-fact, I’m pretty sure the calculations were a bit off, but I’m not going to go back and fix it. The players won’t notice (unless they read this 😛 )

The events at Île-à-Vache were a bit last-minute, and I think they could have benefited from a bit more processing—it wasn’t bad, I just felt it needed a little more…something. I need to keep in mind for the future that such events should probably always include a “twist” of some kind, beyond the initial confrontation. The session ended on a much better cliffhanger than last time, too—though I hope I haven’t painted myself into a bit of a corner as a result.

Sea Dogs, Chapter I:II, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM Confidence: 3/5. I really buggered this one up. I’d rate it worse, but I think the mess was, thankfully, mostly invisible to the players.

Wibbly-Wobbly

I thought I had everything properly organized, but “no plan survives contact with the enemy.” I suppose it could be accurately said that my failure here was the result of players doing what I should have expected, but did not. In hindsight, the first domino appears to have been my intent to have the “voyage planning session” occur after the “dive.” I expected all the PCs to participate in the Skill Challenge, and not make any real plans until after it was resolved. When some split off, it made more sense for them to start making voyage arrangements on the side, which would require them to know where they would be going first. (Payne already knew about Île-à-Vache, so they could reasonably plan it out, even though the Coin wasn’t yet in hand.) That meant they had to have the conversation before the dive—which would sensibly occur when they returned to the ship that night. Since I didn’t know they were going to split up until afterward, that meant I had to backtrack. The second fail was my one-the-spot decision to roll-up the entire Skill Challenge at once and sort it out afterward, which caused me to miss a bunch of events I intended to occur during the process, and muddled up the timeline even more. Those two combined with other mistakes, to make a complete mess of things, behind-the-screen:

  • I realized days later that I had completely forgotten the second clue from Old Tom, which will greatly affect the voyage planning (requiring a bit of backtracking next week)
  • For whatever reason, it skipped my mind that the process of getting freight/passengers/etc. takes two days, which meant my timeline needed to be extended (and some events could have occurred later); also, even though I did review the rules in Pyramid 3/97 “Medieval Sea Trade” beforehand, I didn’t actually make note of the skill needed to roll against
  • In spite of my extensive notes on the matter, I completely forgot to actually do the skill-rolls for the voyage planning process—I’ll have to backtrack next time and cover that
  • I have no idea why it didn’t occur to me that one of the PCs might actually try to seek out the captain of the Nijmegen and, y’know, talk to him. At least it’s got their curiosity going. It’s a shame I didn’t have any real detail on the character. That would have been a good idea…
  • I had forgotten how absolutely passive Davino’s player has always been, and I wasn’t prepared for his complete lack of response to his info dump (though, in my defense, I’ve not GMed a full campaign with him in it before)
  • There were a few events in town, and a number involving the NPC crewmen’s introductions, that I completely skipped, in the general confusion
  • It never occurred to me that someone on watch aboard the ship might just “yell at” the saboteurs in the water—I completely froze for a minute, not quite knowing how to respond; I think my use of Serendipity wasn’t quite in the spirit of the Advantage as written, also

It Wasn’t All Bad

  • The Skill Challenge actually went through more-or-less without a hitch, which surprised me—maybe we’ve finally figured it out
  • Once again, my pacing was pretty accurate—it ended roughly where I expected
  • As GM or player, I’m not usually the “accents” guy; this was my first time attempting French—good or bad, I felt mostly comfortable doing it, which is a big step for me. (I’ll have to listen to the stream later and see if it makes me cringe 😛 )
  • Planning big operations always takes a lot of table-time; I tried to speed it along, and I don’t think it dragged on excessively, so that’s a win

Unsolicited Information

During the Skill Challenge, I ended up volunteering some background information regarding goggles and diving bells. It was related, and potentially useful, whether or not it was “interesting.” But it was unsolicited, and frankly, I doubt the players would ever have asked for it, because it probably never would have occurred to them. I find myself wondering what a GM should do here? You want them to have the info, but if you volunteer it, it can feel forced, and can be mistaken as “important” when it isn’t really. I don’t have an answer (yet).

Conclusion

I like to think I generally learn from my mistakes, and that means I should have learned a lot from this session. But we’re going to be moving out of the relative safety of the kiddie-pool next week, and into the deep end of the unknown (that is, stuff I haven’t prepared for as thoroughly, due to the sandbox nature of the campaign). That will be the real test of my GMing ability.

Sea Dogs, Chapter I:I, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM Confidence: 4.5/5. Finally, after (literally) 20+ years in the making, the Sea Dogs campaign officially began. I had the usual first-session-jitters, but it went pretty much according to plan. I felt like everyone was engaged throughout. The session splits into three basic parts:

Part I: The Duel

I was pleased with how the “duel” segment turned out, overall. I made a point to find some way to highlight each of the PCs’ character; I had some difficulty figuring out how to do that for Hayden, but he ended up being the volunteer, which worked out perfectly. I did not think through the medical aftermath, though; I really should have read up on that beforehand.

Part II: The Priest

I had to make a lot of changes to the “priest” scene at the last minute to fill some plot holes, and it could have benefited from cooking a little longer, I think. But it had the effect I was looking for. I hadn’t actually expected Davino’s player to hesitate to the degree that he did, but at least it had occurred to me, and I planned for the servant offer to do it for him in that event. I did not consider he would bring another PC along, though, but that ended up working to my advantage, as Rogers’ reaction added a little more conflict/drama to the scene. There’s actually a lot more exposition to get through to set everything up, here, but I decided to have the servant catch up to Davino later, rather than slog through it all in one go. We’ll see if that was the right call.

Part III: Old Tom

I was a little disappointed that the “random encounters” on the road came up nil, but I want to stick to the plan—it’s supposed to be sandbox, after all. I discovered too late that, although it had occurred to me the PCs might want to talk to the assassins, I hadn’t actually considered their response. I should have paid more attention to their equipment, as well. But to be fair, I really procrastinated to that end. Next time, better, I hope. I did have an idea after the game that I might come up with some sort of “random mook personality trait” table, just to give them a little individual flavor. I had a short Action 2 Chase in mind for the runaway at the end of it, but the PCs didn’t try to run him down. That’s fine. It was probably unnecessary.

Other Stuff

My pacing was spot on; it ended roughly where I expected. And on a good cliffhanger. On the down-side: I didn’t give out any bennies—new mechanic—as my mind was occupied with too many other things at the time. Some of the interludes were a little stumbly. I missed getting a reference image for the jungle trail. I totally forgot the monkey until the fight at the end. But those were all pretty minor, and I’m confident I can improve, now that the first-session dread is past.

Going Semi-Mapless

Last Saturday, for the Olympus group, I ran another one-shot from our Supers campaign. I did a bit of an experiment I had been meaning to try for a while now.

Tactical combat—in pretty much any system, not just GURPS—tends to drag, for obvious reasons. We have experimented a few times with eliminating the tactical-map and going entirely theatre-of-the-mind. Sometimes it works. It does spare everyone some of the brain-cycles we use to process the tactical situation according to the grid, and reduces some weird meta-behaviors resulting from minding the rules. I’ve found that it helps—or maybe requires—some kind of graphic to establish the geography, to keep everyone on the same page about what’s where. But we’ve also done that, and in at least one instance, the confusion over who can see what, who can reach whom, etc., left a little to be desired. “Was he over there, or over there?” “How far is that?”

My experiment was to go “semi-mapless.” The players had no map, just an image reference of the combat area (in this case, first the alley, and second, the stairwell). But I, as GM, did have a tactical map, fully gridded and all that. I was tracking positions and moves based on the players’ descriptions, but I tracked facing, distance, etc., as usual, using my map grid. They had all the benefit of “mapless tactical combat” while I was able to keep everything (mostly) organized behind-the-scenes.

Afterward, I call it a success. There were a couple of places where I could have communicated the situation better—I think I need to remind the player-on-deck of the geography when their turn comes up. I felt free to fudge the details here and there, for simplicity, so it wasn’t too tedious, on my end. I definitely expect I’ll use it again in the future.

Table News, 7 Oct 2019

Well, it looks like the Sea Dogs is about to happen for the Olympus (Sat) group, finally. For real this time. I wrote up the introduction almost a year ago here. It should kick off at the end of October, or beginning of November. Unfortunately, that leaves me with very little time before the onset of the “Silly Season”—the end-of-year holiday season, where half the group tends to bail a lot for family reasons—which means either taking a break from the campaign (right after it starts) or dealing with constant delays and random player absences. At this point, my assumption is the former. Therefore, the current plan is to do the “Session Zero” planning session and campaign intro, and then break for the holidays, until the beginning of next year. Sad but unavoidable. But it does give me a little longer to prep, so there’s that. I’m feeling pretty good about it, though.

I have no idea what’s in store for the Core Group (Fri). I’m still leaning in a generally Car Wars direction, but any real effort there is still spinning its tires at the starting line.

Universe Reaction, Extended

grand_universe_by_antifan_real1

Some time ago, I introduced both of my player groups to my Universe Reaction idea. It has seen extensive re-use since then. We’ve found it quite useful. Along the way, I had planned to post some examples of how it might be used. I’m finally getting around to it now. (Since I don’t have much else to post about at the moment.)

Universe Reaction, Examples

Positive/Negative

Simple concept. Provides an answer to a yes/no question, like “Will it rain?” with a bit more granularity.

<=0 No, And+
1-3 No, And
4-6 No
7-9 No, But
10-12 Yes, But
13-15 Yes
16-18 Yes, And
19+ Yes, And+
Enough

This one is for questions like, “How much ammo do we find?” It depends on a rough idea, at least, how much is needed.

<=0 None at all
1-3 Hardly any
4-6 A little/half
7-9 Not enough
10-12 Almost enough
13-15 Enough
16-18 More than enough
19+ Plentiful
Timing

Actually, this is one of the earliest questions I was trying to answer that resulted in the idea of the Universe Reaction. It revolved around how early or late an “appointment” occurred, or what sort of delays a PC might experience in rush-hour traffic.

<=0 No-show
1-3 Really late
4-6 Late
7-9 A bit late
10-12 On time
13-15 A bit early
16-18 Early
19+ Really early
Match

This question originally revolved around “scrounging” and how useful a found item might be to whatever-it-is. But it could obviously have much wider applications as well.

<=0 Worst possible match
1-3 Very bad match
4-6 Bad match
7-9 Poor match
10-12 Not quite good enough
13-15 Good enough
16-18 Close match
19+ Exact match
“Interesting Times”

By “interesting,” I mean the Chinese curse sense—May you live in interesting times. This question evolved from an attempt to work out some “random events.”

<=0 Most interesting (negative)
1-3 Very interesting (negative)
4-6 Interesting (negative)
7-9 Not interesting (maybe a little negative)
10-12 Not interesting (maybe a little positive)
13-15 Interesting (positive)
16-18 Very interesting (positive)
19+ Most interesting (positive)

Table News, 3 Jun 2019

And the wheel keeps turning…

Due to one of the Olympus/Saturday players deciding to take a summer hiatus, I got a bit derailed. Now, instead of running Generica next, I’m going to be revisiting the After the End concept (previously a Core Group/Friday campaign) with a different “antagonist.” It won’t happen until the fall, most likely. As a proper Google Earth-powered “sandbox” like its predecessor, there won’t be a ton of pre-prep, so there’s nothing really standing in the way whenever the go-signal is given. I’m feeling pretty good about it right now. But there’s a fair amount of time between now and then, wherein anything can happen, so who knows? I expect the prep-work I did on Generica won’t go to waste, though; I had already discussed the idea of a concurrent campaign for Friday, and as I have nothing planned for Friday at the moment, that could become a thing.

Table News, 2 Apr 2019

It’s been rather longer than I intended since I last posted. Well, you haven’t really missed anything…

I’ve officially announced I’ll be running Generica after the current campaign on Saturdays—which doesn’t make it absolutely certain, but does increase the likelihood, at least. The only real change worth mentioning is that there’s been some discussion of running Generica on Fridays as well, in some form or another. At this point, it seems most likely it would be a separate concurrent storyline, centered on a different area of the kingdom, with maybe a little potential for some overlap. This one is, however, definitely not certain at the moment. Either way, I’ve been working steadily on the worldbuilding for Generica, and the basic skeleton of the Sat campaign is complete, minus a couple of extras I wanted to do for possible one-shots or filler/options. Running it on Friday as well means all that effort will pay off extra. So, it’s looking good, anyway.

Table News, 2 Jan 2019

I didn’t do much actual GMing in 2018, it seems, though I did a lot of work on various campaigns. Things keep shifting around.

For Olympus (Sat), I worked on Sea Dogs for a solid four months, and almost ran it, but it ended up being delayed for…reasons. I eventually tabled it in favor of the Supers campaign, Knight City Chronicles, after I ran a couple of one-shots (recordings available on Youtube: First, and Second), for which I never posted any behind-the-scenes stuff here as I had intended. (My dislike for blogging/journal-keeping has apparently not improved 😛 ) It looked like it was really picking up some steam until…reasons, again. Now I’ve restructured my intentions (and expectations) and moved on.

For the Core Group (Fri), we had a really long run of Pathfinder: Kingmaker that, along with the many “start-stop” interruptions along the way, took up most of the year. Toward the end of the year, we had a month or so of Star Trek before we ended up just taking a hiatus to close out the year.

The trend for me, of late, has been to enlist the players, more and more, in the campaign decision-making, but that hasn’t been working out like I wanted. Getting details for new characters and such has required a lot more arm-twisting than I’ve found I am willing to tolerate. That, combined with the constant “start-stopping” for absences, has caused me to re-evaluate how I develop the campaign, and I have a new procedure I’m using for the forseeable future. Here’s hoping it works a bit better for 2019…

Currently, the roadmap(s) look like this:

  • For the Olympus group, we’ve got around 4 weeks (maybe more) left of the current Banestorm run, and after that, GURPS Action: Consular Operations (basically, a “spy thriller”) for probably 6-12 weeks. After that, I currently intend to continue Generica for a full-length run.
  • For the Core Group, we’ve got a Fallout game at the start of the year, which I would expect to go from 6-12 weeks. I’m expecting a run of Night’s Black Agents after that. Then I’m planning to get Terra Nova going.
  • Assuming the new procedure works out, I intend to sketch out some material for Autoduel, and maybe Sea Dogs (after some retooling), as backups.

Table News, 1 Oct 2018

The Core Group (Fri) has roughly sorted out the GMing queue, and there won’t be an opening for me there for around a year, looks like. Work on the Sea Dogs campaign for the Olympus (Sat) group is ongoing. Nothing to see here, yet. So, I thought I’d discuss some of the mechanical issues I’ve been working on for that campaign.

Random Crew

I started a “recruitment” Skill Challenge test-run on the group’s forum, but it got a bit tangled up in the process of everyone trying to wrap their heads around it. At the time, Sea Dogs was next in the queue. Due to the confusion, I worked out a backup plan for generating new NPC crewmen in a hurry, based on something we did in the Core Group some years back. Barring adjustment, the current Random Crew generator is posted on the wiki. Now that the campaign is pushed back in the queue, we’re going to revisit the Skill Challenge thing, but this generator will allow me to wait until the last minute to do that.

Rumors

I think the vast majority of RPG systems or meta-systems just use a random-list of “rumors” with some kind of social skill-check to pick up one/some. That’s fine if the PC is actively trying to get information from a person or group, but if the PC is just eavesdropping for whatever is interesting, skill has nothing to do with it. Credit to Ronnke: he mentioned the Scavenging rules from After the End, which I re-wired for this purpose. The Rumors mechanic is posted on the wiki, such as it is.

Navigation

GURPS Swashbucklers (3e) has some guidelines about sailing distances and times within the Caribbean, but they’re pretty broad, and don’t take into account other destinations than those listed, or the differences between ships and their individual performance characteristics. I wanted to remedy that, not only for this campaign, but for potential future use as well. For now, I’ll be using Google Earth for drawing out the paths and calculating the distances involved. Toward the cause of doing all the math behind the scenes so the players don’t have to on game night, I combined data from Vehicles (3e), Vehicles Expansion I (3e), Swashbucklers (3e), Low-Tech, and others into a spreadsheet designed to manage the navigation process—distance, course, wind, currents, and the sailing properties of the ship/rigging are all accounted for, in as accurate a manner as I could manage.

Travel Logistics

Sea-travel is going to be a focus of this campaign. GURPS has a number of sources dealing with long-distance travel in general, and sea-travel in specific, the best being Dungeon Fantasy 16: Wilderness Adventures. I am combining that with the “mission planning” stuff from Action 2, and adding in my own Preparation Points, Impulse Buys aspected to travel preparations. I’m still sorting out the details on this one.

Trade

At least one of the players had specifically requested to not do “trading” in this campaign. Although “travel” is a focus of the campaign, “trade” is not. I would usually prefer to go into detail, for the simulation’s sake, but I opted to go with a greatly-simplified system rather than eliminate it entirely. This will be loosely based on Sid Meier’s Pirates! combined with a little inspiration from “Medieval Sea Trade” in Pyramid 3/87 Low-Tech III. This one is still being worked on as well.

Random Traffic

It’s simple enough to randomly determine what appears on the horizon at any given time at sea, but it’s another matter for that determination to be realistic. This issue has resulted in the largest number of research hours, I think, to determine what an appropriate amount of sea-traffic is for the 18th century Caribbean Sea. My research has not been fruitless, though maybe not as specific as I would like. I have the basics worked out, but I’m still working on it (at a lower priority than the others, since I could easily wing it, and nobody would know).