Sea Dogs, Chapter II:II, GM Debrief

GM Confidence: 3/5. Once again, after a solid first session, the second session that followed was frustratingly sloppy, from my perspective, at least. I felt kinda dirty afterward. As with the previous session-2, maybe the players didn’t really notice…

The Bounty hunter

We got off to a good enough start. Mel got to tell her story. As soon as I started on wrapping up the bounty hunter story, I started to realize how I’d forgotten to really process the situation, having, instead, focused entirely on other, farther-out issues.

I had not actually worked out what item Friendly might have had of Matthew’s, except a passing thought about the letters—I had meant to come up with something a little more dramatic. I had not fully processed how Mikkel should interact with the people/situation, and how he might start to break down a little upon discovery of his runestones being missing. I had also meant for the local townies to make a bit of a fuss over the kidnapping, and completely missed that—more on that note, later. I didn’t really process Friendly’s reactions, either. Overall, “it happened.” It wasn’t terrible, it just could/should have been a little more.

The Interrogation

Just like in the Season 1 Episode 2, I had planned to interrupt an ongoing complex process (the PCs’ shore business) with an “event,” and just like the previous, it screwed up the narrative flow. In retrospect, I think it would have made more sense to go ahead and get the business die-rolling out of the way, and better establish who was where before interrupting, but I had made the stupid mistake of assuming everyone would be in one place—which could easily have occurred if the event had happened before everyone broke off, but in the heat of the moment, I couldn’t course-correct for some reason.

As to the interrogation itself: I decided to roll Reaction for Lt. Brace’s “baseline” and rolled high: 14 (which I lowered by two, ultimately). It caused a little cognitive-dissonance with my prior imagining of the scene, and I didn’t fully process what these results should look like, before the game. I should certainly know better by now, but I also did not make any plans for what might happen if one of the PCs were to fail, much less deliberately antagonize him. (Rogers’ behavior appears to have been somewhat of a misunderstanding, but that’s another matter.) I also didn’t think too hard about his line-of-questioning, which could have been a lot more challenging and sensible—other than “What’s your side of the story?” and “That’s good enough for me!” I could kinda feel the whole thing tilting off-balance as we progressed through it. There are so many good resources for this sort of situation, and I used none of them.

One thing I realized after the game was that I should have had some “cumulative” effect for everyone’s level of success or failure that would result in a “final tally” of guilt or innocence. But then “guilty” wasn’t really an option here, and it should have been. For shame. That’s just bad GMing. Never, ever do that.

Another thing I realized after the session was over was that, once again, I had a situation where the players weren’t asking the questions I expected them to, and once again, I find myself wondering what is the right way to coax those questions out of them? There’s no way to say, “So, are you going to ask Lt. Brace the identity of your accuser?” without giving away that it is important information, or essentially, “playing their character for them,” which is always bad form. Every time I consider it, I feel myself drifting away from GMing “propriety” toward “pragmatism”—just give them a list of knowns and unknowns beforehand so they don’t forget. Maybe next time. In this case, I’m going to have to do a little cleanup next time.

Shore Business

When it came to wrapping things up ashore, I quickly found that my notes were badly ordered, parts missing, mechanics either not fleshed out or not recorded in their final incarnation, etc. There were big chunks of my rules on Speculative Cargo missing. I kept having to scroll miles up and down my notes to get to that other thing I needed. I desperately needed to do a thorough read-through, to grasp the narrative flow, and find the gaps in my information to-hand. It could’ve been worse, though.

I had a bunch of character stuff planned, for crew ashore and whatnot, that I just skipped completely past, for no reason I can think of, except that those notes weren’t where they needed to be in the flow. There was a whole thing about pineapple being a cash-crop on Eleuthera that the PCs might have been interested in; completely missed. I really wanted to do more with Friendly; just dropped away. The townies were supposed to be trying to get to the bottom of the kidnapping, and I wanted to force the PCs to answer for his release (or lie about it).

Some of my issues with the above stemmed from a small amount of “panic” regarding the PCs’ decision to cut things short. I hadn’t planned for them to leave in the evening of the 13th. Not at all. I was far too lenient in twisting conditions to allow it to actually happen—maybe, in some way, I was afraid that if they were delayed after dark, they would attempt it anyway, and I didn’t have a plan for it. I also had specific routes worked out that did not include things like “stopping in Nassau for any reason”—I could’ve managed with that, I think, but I found myself “steering” the players a bit. Once again, bad form.


My pacing expectations for this campaign—early, though it is—has been a bit off. I expected them to be at Havana at the beginning of this session. I expected them to be at Havana at the end of this session, too. I’m not sure where I went wrong; not yet, anyway. I expect this to improve as we go, though. It did result in an awkward ending/cliffhanger, which I hate. Such is life.


  • I did a lot of spreadsheet cleanup over the week. This needed to happen, but it did take time away from the other stuff, and that didn’t help matters.
  • I realized afterward that, with regard to Area Knowledge, it might benefit from using a “Group Roll” rather than individual—since everyone will normally be communicating, and can pool their knowledge. There are probably some other instances of this I can use. (I may discuss the concept in a later post.)
  • When the PCs were departing, I pointed them to the wrong island for where the Hazard was anchored. It was much farther north. Not sure why I got that wrong.
  • After the session, I discovered a number of things in (or adjacent to) Social Engineering. The big ones are using Savoir-Faire to “impress one’s status on another,” and that to get the Reaction bonus for Talent, one must be observed using a skill covered by the Talent.
  • Mikkel “the Hound” Skaarup not only lives, and is still “in play,” but is actively looking for Hayden’s son, now, as well. I look forward to bring him in again later.
  • Regarding “Handsome” Ned Long: I finally figured out what’s going on with him. It’s gonna be fun to reveal this one. 😉

Sea Dogs, Chapter II:I, GM Debrief

GM Confidence: 4.5/5. I’m finally back at this one, only two years later than originally predicted. 😛 Despite the usual pre-run jitters, I felt pretty good about this one. I honestly can’t think of anything in particular that went “wrong” in this session, with an admittedly-minor exception.

What’s New

The most drastic change for Season 2 is that I’m now using Fantasy Grounds Unity. I’ve been playing it for quite a while now, but this was my first time running. I’ve gotten used to the quirks, and I still have a problem with some of the changes, all of which made me reluctant to switch. Anyway, I spent some time getting proficient with the new features, and I plan on getting the most out of them. In this session, the combat was certainly enhanced by the lighting features, at least.

The second biggest change is that, once again, I have a couple of PCs with new players: Claudia and Rogers. Claudia was only played once by her original player. Her storyline lapsed during her tenure as NPC, and I’m getting her caught up. Also, Mel has already started writing some prose to flesh out her background. Regarding Buck, I feel that Nosh is a pretty good replacement for his original player, but I’ve also not run with him before, so there’s some uncertainty there. But these aren’t “worries” for me—I expect good things.

Outside of those changes, I mostly just picked up where I left off. I had a long run-up from my initial announcement to the start of the campaign run (including some delays), which gave me plenty of time to research. I managed to get some answers to some questions that had nagged me throughout the previous run—things like the dollar-amount of import/export tariffs, the nature of smuggling, pilotage costs and operations, etc.—and I made more improvements to the spreadsheets (and discovered yet more that were needed).

The Fight

Kicking off with a fight is a great way to let everyone get acclimated. The combat in this session was a set-piece that had, ultimately, been in the works since the end of the previous run. It’s always worrying to me when I find myself stacking the deck against the PCs so strongly. The weather conditions and such were the result of the real-world weather I’ve been using, as was the “new moon”—that is, not something I had deliberately decided to inflict upon the characters. I struggled a bit with how the PCs would actually arrive at the proper location, much less be able to conduct the rescue at all in those conditions, but I obviously found a way. I made certain to spell out all the adverse conditions in much detail well prior to the engagement, so the players had time to fully process and come to terms with them. It didn’t make sense for the bad guys to have a small (PCs-sized) crew, but turning half of them into “non-combatants” kept that from turning into a disaster.

The scenario made a good showcase of some of the new FGU features, and I feel like the novelty of it may have helped make the combat “fun,” rather than tedious. It lasted for a little over an hour; roughly what I had anticipated. I didn’t think about the “Bad Footing” for the beach sand until the last minute, and as such, I held back on enforcing it, having not fully established that condition beforehand—players don’t like that sort of “surprise,” I’ve found. It was similarly late in the process when I remembered Disasters – Hurricane as a source, so I didn’t have time to wrap my head around those mechanics. But I think we all had fun with the results.

The Prisoner

It was the previous run of this campaign where I had identified a problem I had with managing social interactions, and had begun figuring out a solution. Here I made use of the latest iteration: the “Lock & Key”—identifying factors or lines-of-questioning/approach that will cause the NPC to open-up or shut-down. In the case of the county hunter, both were “control”—as long as he feels he can complete his mission, whatever the detour, he will hold fast (bonus to resist Influence); if he feels he is losing control of the situation, he would begin to lose control of himself (penalty to resist Influence). In practice, it seemed to work, but I don’t think the players really pushed the limits. I should have come up with some specific success/fail responses for him beforehand, though, instead of improvising. That said, my “big fail” of the session was not actually knowing the circumstances of the delivery of his prize—a dumb mistake on my part. So I had to come up with something plausible on-the-fly. If I change my mind later: maybe he was lying? 😛 Regardless, this segment took more time than I had anticipated, and is probably the main reason I ended up, story-wise, coming up shorter for the session than I had intended (aside from the delayed start).


  • I completely forgot to hand out Bennies at the start. I’ll have to make up for that next time.
  • Post Season 1 research uncovered a lot of little “errors” I needed to correct at the beginning of the session. The good part: The time taken to issue the corrections gave me some time to ease in behind-the-screen.
  • I had actually not prepared for the PCs to end up getting lost or going the entirely wrong direction—another dumb mistake. Always ask yourself: What’s the worst logical result of player involvement, and be prepared for it. 😉
  • I was particularly happy with how all the PCs managed to find a little way to “contribute” during the fight, even if it wasn’t dealing damage, that served to highlight their characters’…character.
  • Hayden’s “commission” of the bounty hunter in his own search was a complete surprise to me—the idea had never occurred to me at all—but I can certainly make use of it!
  • I was fortunate the players didn’t settle on some of their other ideas about what to do with the bounty hunter—there were quite a few I hadn’t even considered (and probably should have).

On top of everything else, I have to get used to writing these things again… 😛

Sea Dogs: Treasure Maps

Work on Sea Dogs season two continues, still with the expectation of running it after New Year’s. In the meantime, I thought I would discuss a mechanic I’m using in this campaign, which might be of use to someone out there.

When I started work on this campaign, I decided I wanted it to be a more player-driven sandbox than its predecessors. To that end, I denied the players the use of things like Patrons, so they would have no “NPC Authority Figure” whose orders they follow without question (as is generally the like-it-or-not case). But then, how do you motivate the characters to some end without such a reliable source of direction? My solution, in this case: “Treasure Maps.”

What’s All This, Then?

The idea is that each player would define a “treasure” he is attempting to find—though this treasure would not necessarily be “silver and gold,” but could be anything. In fact, I encouraged them to each come up with something unique among the group. I was really happy with the results, summarized here:

  • Artegal Spenser is looking for the means to free his wife from a fairy-prince, and knew to look for a “witch” in Port-de-Paix.
  • Claudia Lucroy has a small golden Skull she had stolen, that would lead to “something valuable”—I already had something in mind for this. It causes weird dreams of another Skull, and a “pull” in what is presumed to be its companion’s direction.
  • Davino Palange has The Gun™—in his case, he already possesses the “treasure,” and the conflict would come looking for him instead, though he had a clue regarding the former owner in Barbados, that leads to more information.
  • John Hayden is looking for his recently-discovered son, with the name of a ship he had served on, and the whereabouts of the lad’s good friend who might know where he went.
  • Sir Randel Payne had knowledge of a couple of items that would lead him to a “Treasury,” hidden by Captain Morgan near Campeche, and a journal containing more clues.
  • William “Buck” Rogers has a painting that he knows to be a map of the Amazon River, pointing to the location of something of great value, along with the name of the thief that stole it—it’s an actual treasure map

Many of these are in some stage of progress/completion as of the end of season one.

The Setup

After the players did their part, I decided to give each of these objectives three “steps” to completion (or thereabouts), and worked out what/who/where those steps would be—I tried to spread the locations around the Caribbean. (Many of these steps are unknown to the players until they find clues.) Using Payne’s example, being the most complete at the time of this writing: his step-one was to dive for the Coin at Port Royal; step-two was to find the Compass at Île-à-Vache; and step-three is getting to Campeche to put it to use, with guidance from his research of the journal. Three steps times six characters equals eighteen potential destinations with related events. That, combined with the other potential events occurring in between, including Enemies’ appearance, Secrets, and the like, amounted to plenty of campaign content. I left it up to the players, when the characters planned their expedition in-game, to decide in what order the steps would be addressed—I offered no guidance in that regard.

Behind the Scenes

Firstly, I decided to treat each Treasure Map like a Secret: I gave it a 6 on 3d6 roll per session, success indicating that some “related” event occurs. In many cases, this would be something the character experienced and had to deal with, but in others, it would be something occurring behind-the-scenes—the bad guys make a move, travel, a witness dies, something is exposed off-screen, or whatnot. I made a bullet-list of such events for each Treasure Map thread. In season one, I used this roll exclusively to determine when things happened, but in season two, I have many events (as made sense) actually scheduled to occur on a certain date (so they can be “missed”). It has been the case in the past that, with Secrets, that roll of 3d6 might never succeed during a given campaign run, so I decided to increment the target number by one for each failed activation—this way, it’s guaranteed to fire at least once during a twelve-session run.

Secondly, I gave each Treasure Map an antagonist: someone also seeking that treasure, for their own reasons and by their own means. Each of these characters are more powerful than the associated PC, and have their own organizations under their control, and their own agenda they are pursuing (whether or not the PC has anything to do with it—in most cases, they don’t). All these bad guys are “tied together at the top” to form the campaign’s “conspyramid” (see Night’s Black Agents). Their activities are worked into the Treasure Map event bullet-points, mentioned above, and make up a considerable portion of the behind-the-scenes ongoing content that will be revealed as the campaign progresses.

The End Results

Once a PC has completed all the steps and found the treasure…well, we haven’t gotten there yet. Obviously, they’re going to be more wealthy (or whatever), but since the players decided to take each one in turn, the first to complete will lack that motivating factor for the rest of the campaign, without some sort of continuation—and that’s generally covered by the individual antagonists, who will undoubtedly continue to pursue. I had originally expected that each season of the campaign would feature the completion of one of these goals, but (a) the first season ended before the first goal was reached, and (b) the characters’ itinerary has them completing many of their steps in parallel, for the most part. I expect Payne’s will complete in season two, so I guess we’ll see how that goes.

Table News, 3 Aug 22

The ever-changing sea…

The Knight City campaign wasn’t making as much headway as I had hoped. So I shifted over to Inception, for which I had more work already done, and really want to run someday. On the side, I asked around about what (Olympus/Sat.) players would rather I run, and a plurality of them suggested Sea Dogs—actually, it was more-or-less unanimous. My brain wasn’t really headed that direction, though—it’s been a long time since I’ve connected with that campaign. So I decided to start going through the Youtube recordings and adding the “chapters,” thereby watching/listening to the entire run (at 2× speed anyway), and see if that triggers a connection again. It’s taken a lot of time, for obvious reasons. I’m almost done, at this point, and at least, I’m certainly remembering all the things I enjoyed about that campaign. I’ll probably make the switchover official, soon. But I’m not sure if my current non-game workload will accommodate the tons of research required. I guess we’ll see.

As a side note: I’m also reviewing all the GM After-Action Reports here, and I’m amused by all the lessons I’ve learned during the course of the campaign, that I learned again “for the first time” in subsequent campaigns, without realizing it. 😛

Table News, 1 Jun 22

Obviously, I haven’t had much to say in a while. But I’m still here anyway.

Post-Generica, I made an honest, good-faith attempt at getting Diversion I going—the PbP Ser Kenrick-focused “house-knight” storyline. But life & stuff just kept getting in the way until it all just fizzled. I did a lot of work on it, though. I still intend to get back to it at some point, but I couldn’t say when.

In the meantime, I’ve gone back to working on the Knight City Chronicles Supers campaign stuff, due to a comment on the YouTube channel. Like Generica, this isn’t strictly a part of the Daniverse, so it doesn’t “technically” belong here—not that I care so much about that.

But there is something worth noting, that, while not a true part of the proper Daniverse either, is “spiritually descended” from it. That is, Rigil Kent is going to start his GURPS Monster Hunters campaign, which features as its sole location, the fictional town of Apocalypse, NM, making it a more-or-less continuation of my Apocalypse campaign from 1998, taking place instead within his Red Sky/Dresden Files world. This is similar to his last Core Group campaign, The Verge, which technically is an official part of the Daniverse, though not run by me. Anyway, Apocalypse really did deserve another chance, and I’m glad it’s getting one.

FGLE Chapter II, GM Retrospective

GM Confidence: I averaged 4.31/5 for the run, and that’s pretty close to my overall feeling—maybe 4.5. It was definitely a good run, and an improvement over last time, even if I didn’t quite avoid all of the old mistakes. What a difference four years makes! This was my second full-length (12 sessions) run for Olympus, and the first “sequel.”


See the introduction for reference.

This chapter ended up as a linear collection of self-contained episodes revolving (in the background) around Harmin of Grudgehold’s overly-elaborate revenge plot against the Heroes’ Guild. I tried to keep things simple—not trying to fool anyone with clever twists—working in all the fairy-tale and fantasy tropes I could.


In summary: Shelley (LabRat), from our Friday face-to-face group, created the character that I ripped-off for Rayna. Since Rayna had become an NPC, as a result of the player leaving the Olympus group, I gave Shelley “control” of Rayna and started working with her on The Guffin Hall Job, while I was working on the details on the run-up to the start of the campaign. She “accidentally” became an essential part of the GMing process.

Having someone with whom you can discuss the details, who isn’t playing in the game, is a big help—especially if they don’t think like you. I’ve made attempts at finding a proper “sounding-board” before, but this was the first time it actually worked out, and I highly recommend it.

Other changes from Chapter I

  • The “new players for old characters” has been discussed before. That went well enough, though I decided afterward that, due to the players’ personality differences, I probably should have swapped the two. Both of them have said they will end up playing new characters in the next Chapter. Murdok will return to Dwarfmount to try to clear his brother’s name. Dustan is going to leave the Wizards’ Guild, though he may hang around as an NPC.
  • Chapter I didn’t benefit from my later epiphany regarding campaign “Theme.” I supported the “Fame and Fortune” Theme in Chapter II with all the Bad Guys using the “Great fame and wealth unimaginable” catchphrase, and the gradual increase in the PCs’ reputation and visibility, though I feel like I could have brought the “good or bad thing?” question into better focus. The secondary theme of “Family™” was an accident stemming from the PCs’ backgrounds; I didn’t intentionally push that one, but it did come up now and again on its own.
  • As a group, we had stopped using “general purpose” Plot Points for a while now, for reasons. I kept the “special purpose” ones, though: we used Preparation Points quite a lot, and occasionally, Tactics. In place of the GP points, I continued the more-recent use of Bennies, which had been working out pretty well.


  • I did the original “skeleton” of the campaign some years prior, and had enough time in the run-up to go through the entire outline and detail each session (more) fully before it started. This is probably the most well-crafted campaign I’ve run so far; unusual, as the last few have been sandboxes, where I had no real long-term plan at all. Behind-the-scenes, that meant I was able to use proper foreshadowing, and work in lore elements and threads I might not have, otherwise, on-the-fly.
  • I also built a spreadsheet-based generator for Crusader Kings 2 “events” that I could work into the narrative, but those stayed in the background.
  • I’ve found that I’ve gotten pretty good at eyeballing the session notes for pacing; every session ended within 20 minutes or so of my target run-time. However, no (or few) cliffhangers makes me sad 😛
  • I used a lot of Skill Challenges (and derivatives) in this run—I tried to do one per session. As a group, we’ve gotten pretty efficient with these, so it didn’t require a great deal of handholding to get through, and tended to go pretty quickly. Best thing to come out of D&D 4e 😛
  • Given the “compressed” nature of the self-contained sessions, I didn’t want to drag out travel segments when it wasn’t really the focus of the campaign. I streamlined the process where I could, applying some of the lessons learned from my other recent campaigns. I think using different images along the way gives a good feel of “progress,” but I also tried to use the same images for areas that were repeated, for familiarity—I can’t speak for the players regarding whether or not that actually worked.
  • I did a number of different alpha-tests of my Action Challenge System throughout the run. They all had some minor issues, but those errors should translate to improvements down the road. I’m actually pretty happy with the progress, there.
  • Even in Chapter I, I tried to push the idea of interesting “components/rituals” for the usual magic spells. In this run, I ended up granting a Benny (usable only on that spell’s effects) for a proper description. This worked out really well in the early part of the run, and I really liked the results. But sadly, its use slacked off over time. I wouldn’t call the concept a “failure” but I need to find a way to promote its use more.
  • I continued using (when I could) the “Lock and Key” method for social encounters—pre-defining topics/approaches that will shut down the opposition or open them up. It still feels functional to me, but it also feels like it needs something. More definition? This will probably be worth its own article down the road, when I’m more comfortable with it.
  • I intentionally avoided any actual “dungeon crawls,” even though they are a fantasy staple. They would take way too long on their own, and moreso when combats occur within them.


  • I’ve gotten better about not letting my narrative desire—the “want/need” for something to occur in a certain way—drive the plot. I did run afoul of it here and there, but mercifully, it didn’t result in a disaster, as it did in the previous Chapter.
  • It has been pointed out that there was a possibly-excessive amount of the GM speaking, compared to the players, in the course of a session. To some degree, this is a fact-of-life of playing remotely, and I’m not sure there’s an effective remedy, other than to make a focus of leaving enough space for the players to have their say.
  • There was more than one occasion where I had friendly NPCs involved in a combat scene, and didn’t really have a plan for what to do with them. This is another opportunity for “show-not-tell” and lore-building that I really shouldn’t miss, but that’s difficult without preparation—I need to remind myself in the future.
  • I have done a great deal of work on the lore, and the wiki, but there are some key bits I never really fleshed out. Specifically: the “mana versus sanctity” question, or requirements for guild/church advancement. Given those bits involved active PCs, I really don’t have an excuse.

Running gags and themes

  • The “Great fame and wealth unimaginable” catchphrase is the most important running gag, designed specifically to work with the campaign Theme. As previously mentioned, the idea was ripped straight out of The Middleman and similarly employed.
  • By design, all but a few of the episodes started in the Heroes’ Guild tavern the same way: PCs have a pint delivered by Búrli, who either makes fun of Murdok or tries some culinary experiment, before one of the other guild officers delivers the mission, with a second to reinforce the narrative (and show some of the interplay between the officers, and demonstrate their character). Aside from the “start in a tavern” trope, and comedic potential, it served as a solid “get started/into character” moment players could latch onto.
  • The Town Crier was a way to deliver bits of lore and/or useful information about current or future missions. Some of the bits of “news” were drawn from the CK2 events mentioned above. When I didn’t have that, I shamelessly ripped off “herald” lines from Assassin’s Creed 2. If you hadn’t noticed, I observed the Rule of Three, both with the number of news items and number of regular heralds.
  • The original plan was for a running gag of people saying “Company of the Bere…Never heard of you”—which would have worked nicely with the campaign Theme. Not sure why it didn’t happen, exactly, but it was more-or-less replaced with the “Company of the Beer…sorry, Bear” gag. I didn’t think I could get away with continuing the previous “I thought there were more of you…” gag, as much as I liked that one.

To be (ideally) continued

By the end of the run, including several breaks, I didn’t feel so “exhausted” as I usually might, but I was certainly ready to stop. That said, I have already begun the Diversion I play-by-post (sort of) quasi-campaign, which is intended to lead into Chapter III, for which I have a “basic plan” now. I have no idea how long it will last, or how often progress will be posted, but it will appear on the blog when it happens. It’s a good excuse to continue updating the wiki and working on the lore—there’s plenty of that to be done.

There remains the possibility that I might run a separate Generica campaign on Fridays with the face-to-face group, likely revolving around Rayna and Guffin Hall, but I have no specific plans at the moment. And the Generica-based Keep on the Borderlands is still being considered, though I couldn’t guess, at the moment, the likelihood it will see the light of day.

FGLE Chp II:XII, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 4.5/5. Overall, the finale went pretty well. The new mechanics just needed a bit more polish.


This session had an intentionally simple structure: the reveal at the guildhall, the fight down the street, and the fight at the end. I managed to work in elements from nearly all the previous sessions—only the “Paladin Escort Job’ was missing, I think; I nearly had Ser Bryton show up, but the idea came to me a bit late. A strong countdown (the vortex) and increasing difficulty kept a pretty good energy level throughout. Narratively, the campaign as a whole was tied off nicely. From this “broad” perspective, the session was really successful, in my opinion.

The Guildhall

Obviously (in hindsight) it didn’t matter if the PCs pulled the trigger on Harmin or not. But I expected either Ser Kenrick or Murdok would be the ones to do so, if it came to it, and that was the case, for honor or expedience, respectively. I had one way to bypass the “rules” in mind, and I was happy that Maykew’s player found it (or near enough); I was in the process of deciding whether or not I might need to prompt someone when it happened. The real trick, here, though, would have been if the PCs had done nothing—that might have been awkward; someone else would have killed Harmin, no doubt, but it would have felt flat. There was a little more “discussion” required here than I might have preferred, though I can’t think of a way to solve that, and I wanted to pad the time a little, at that moment, anyway.

ACS: Combat/Disaster Zone

I tried this the first time in Earthfall. This time I tried to strip it down to only what was necessary. But the mechanics went through many rewrites, up to the last minutes before the game, and I think it showed. I won’t go into great detail here, since I expect to do a full article on the (more) “finished” version in the future.

I started the segment by explaining the rules and conditions, as has been my procedure. But there was so much to explain that I decided, in the moment, to delay some of it until it became immediately relevant—this was a mistake. In retrospect, it’s probably better to let things slow down, and be sure everyone has a full understanding of the mechanics, than to lose energy to players’ confusion (or worse, frustration) in the middle. Lesson learned.

The mechanical basics were sound, and we’ve all gotten proficient with the GURPS Chase stuff and D&D Skill Challenges on which it is based. I made a list of all the Maneuvers and considered how they would work in this situation, but nobody did anything other than “Move” (with the one exception that I had planned for). I laid out the Zones so as to ease the players in, and gradually added more difficulty. I hesitated midway through when it started to look like it might be too difficult, but that turned out to be an anomaly. (And then a day or two later, it sank in that I had missed some other modifiers in their favor anyway.) I replaced the speed and maneuverability “Mobility Advantage” modifiers with “Combat Advantage.” This is the part that got refactored the most, was the most clunky, and also the part that I failed to adequately explain. Aside from the excessive calculations (that should have been done before the game), I encountered an issue unique to playing on a VTT: having to scroll the chat back and forth to gather the necessary info to get those maths done. It didn’t take long after the session before I started to see “better ways” to manage this part.

Other than that, my only real complaint was that, after thinking it might end up being too short, it ended up taking longer than I had anticipated—but not too bad. I thought it felt pretty good, and I got quite a few good data-points for later improvement.

Final Combat

Is this the meat or the potatoes? These guys were intentionally tough on their own, but the environmental factors further limited players’ choices. In spite of that, as usual, the PCs kinda walked all over them. I don’t think I made any real “tactical” errors there, though it might have been better to back up against the vortex and hold there. The PCs (specifically Ser Kenrick) had better mobility, and used it well. I also keep forgetting DB. Also, the dice really screwed me over. It’s too bad we were running too late to keep it going, but my bad guys really had nothing left to give at that point.

Side note: This isn’t the first instance featuring “simultaneous action in the out-of-bounds,” and I’m realizing that seeing an “empty” out-of-bounds area doesn’t result in proper consideration—next time, I intend to graphically represent, or at least, hint at, the other combatants.


  • I was thinking of Se7en for Harmin’s entrance
  • I worked in a proper Sky Beam™, finally
  • If someone had walked the Key into the portal, they would have disappeared, never to return (until the next campaign, anyway, with an amazing story, no doubt)
  • It was late in the process when I looked up whether or not a knighthood was ever given to foreigners in the medieval period; it did sometimes happen, though it’s more common in modern times. But we were actually in the middle of the knighting ceremony when I realized that none of the PCs were actually eligible 😛

FGLE Chp II:XI, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 3.5/5. A chain of stupid mistakes caused this session to unravel over its course, from my perspective, at least.

Chain of mistakes

The Temple

The cliffhanger kickoff started well enough, but there were a few issues. First, there was the “death by cutscene” paralysis effect. I know how annoying those are, but I didn’t have any better ideas up to the last minute, and I wanted/needed everyone to be immobilized. (Pay attention—this “wanted/needed” issue will come up again.) This was minor; I knew everyone would “get it” and play along, and they did. No harm, no foul. Second, though, was the recovery time: This was a “custom” spell-effect and for the whole week of prep, I intended the PCs to all recover at the same randomly-determined time, but in the moment it occurred, I thought, “That’s dumb. They should recover separately.” The expansion of the cloud of Black Amber assumed they would all be ambulatory at the time, and I very nearly had a real problem, given that not all of the PCs were so. Third, it had not even occurred to me that someone might need to know how one relieves such a condition, which I’m certain could easily have been pulled from an existing spell-effect if I had.

The Duel

This part went through a lot of rewrites over the week, and to be fair, I do think the end result was the best narrative. However, once again, I knew I had a big problem: all but one of the PCs would be twiddling their thumbs while Ser Kenrick fought. I had one player run the bad guy, which is always a good trick; that takes care of one—three more to go. I really tried, but by the end of the week, I had not come up with a better plan, other than to push the fight through as quickly as possible, and throw a few rumours in for the non-participants. In retrospect, I should have had the false-princess do something for them to investigate.

Mechanically, I’ve used the “Feint=Circle-and-Find-an-Opening” concept before, and it makes perfect sense. But PCs have the D&D muscle-memory causing them to continually press the attack until the enemy is down, trying to do as much DPS as possible. The resulting fight ended up being brutally short. There are optional/unofficial mechanics to help with this sort of thing: “Action Points” (Pyramid 3/44, “The Last Gasp”) is one of the better ones, if a bit too much additional bookkeeping for regular use—I have a slightly easier version of my own that I have yet to implement or test. However, given that the other players were thumb-twiddling, the fight’s brevity was, ultimately, helpful. In retrospect, though, the opponent should have, at least, fought until he was knocked down.

Side note: I also had a backup plan for the false-princess to fight her way out, which would have gotten everyone properly involved, but I wanted/needed her to escape without serious injury.

The Sniper

The cascade-failure in the pass to Hidden Lake began in Highroad: the PCs decided to send the ranger to find the nearest druid and have him deliver a message ahead—a perfectly sensible thing to do (that I had not considered at all). I had planned for the ranger to lead the PCs to the pass, and deliver some exposition about Hidden Lake along the way—which, if I had my wits at the time, he would have delivered before he left. I had not considered at all the idea that the PCs might ride through the forest-pass, which greatly changed the tactical environment. My intention was to drop the entire sniper ambush if the session had gone too late by then; I looked at the time just after I fired the first shot, and realized it was too late, which meant I had to scramble to figure out how to abbreviate the whole thing. I intended for the mega-murder of crows to creepily stop and fly away before the sniper attacked, and I completely forgot (that, and the “distraction” penalty). I had also planned for the now-not-present ranger to be the first one the sniper shot, rather than a PC. Once it had begun, what I desperately did not want to happen—the players basically frozen-in-place for 30 minutes dickering about how to proceed, misunderstanding the conditions, etc.—did exactly happen. When the PCs began to react to the ambush, I could immediately hear in their conversation that frustrating realization that I had just given the PCs a foe they were unable to effectively address. He would likely kill them all one-by-one, if I played him intelligently. Fortunately, the players saved me from that last part by giving me a tactical “out.”

Side note: Although I did manage to draw PC blood, I don’t really count this one. 😛

The Kelpie

The kelpie was Shelley’s (from the Friday face-to-face group) suggestion as a guardian, and I liked the “uniqueness” of it, plus the “Fey” tie-in worked well with the campaign narrative. I had some difficulties with determining her abilities, though: the (3e) GURPS version of a kelpie differs from the D&D version, and also the real myth/legend version—I decided I wanted/needed the PCs to not be able to beat her down in a couple of rounds, so I stuck with the myth/legend version that only mentioned vulnerability to silver and cold iron (which has its own problems). Having said that, I didn’t take the time to consider things like what exactly happens when you take hold of the bridle. I really needed to scour the stories for some more combat-oriented narratives, if such things exist.

The introduction of the kelpie went fairly well, actually, but there were some issues stemming from prior failures. Again, I had not considered that the PCs might be mounted when they arrived. I had assumed that the PCs would notice the woman from afar and take a minute to recon and consider. I had assumed that someone would think about using the mirror on her before they approached. I had assumed someone would make a better “identification” roll (aided by usage of the mirror) and get enough information to suggest that maybe Murdok should get out the magic sling. I had assumed that the PCs who would not be effective against her would be told so before they engaged. I had not considered that the PC with the magic sling might be being bandaged at the time of the attack. I had not actually considered the kelpie’s tactics, only her most basic goals—it would have been better to have her try to keep her distance and pick off the vulnerable.. I had added the sniper, originally, to support the kelpie, not to be a separate encounter: this would have worked better, functionally, but would have been harder to “explain.”

The flow of information, here, is the messiest part. I did finally (re)locate the DF2 section for “Recognition” that explained which skills ID which creatures, and how that all works (in DF, anyway). But I also expected the PCs to roll better. As a result, they didn’t have the information they needed to effectively engage the creature, had to figure it out in the middle of combat, and ultimately, had no idea what the hell they were doing. This may be perfectly realistic, but it is wholly unacceptable to any GM trying to keep combat from turning into a cluster-fuck. Sometimes, the GM really must hand players the info and find a way to live with it.

A related issue: I really struggled with whether or not to remind Dustan’s player to use the mirror here. I almost had him make an IQ roll, but when you think about it, that’s not very useful. What happens if he fails? If he doesn’t, what was the point? I have tried to get into the habit of using a sort of “passive check” for things like this: either assume that, because the PC has a score of n, he knows a thing, or assume a roll of “10” and apply that to the Trait level as if it had been rolled. This would likely have solved the mirror and the identification issues, and/or maybe allowed the actual rolls to be applied to “extra” knowledge. Clearly, I forgot.

Not all bad…

I did manage to give all the PCs their own moment: Ser Kenrick’s duel, Maykew’s oration, Lëodan’s sniper-fight, Murdok uses the sling…, Dustan uses the magic items…wait… Well, it mostly worked. There was some fun roleplay with the kelpie introduction. Some good lessons have been learned, too, especially if taken alongside the previous session’s success. (It is interesting, and probably, coincidental, that the two worst sessions of the campaign have both been “part 2s.”)


  • The “For the honor…” bit is from The Fifth Element; “Black Amber” is inspired by the amber-bomb-thing from Fringe
  • I expected Ser Kenrick’s player to be a little more enthusiastic about the duel, but I didn’t take into account a reluctance to “kill an otherwise non-hostile person for no good reason”
  • I used “Crow” from Hawk the Slayer as the sniper, to the amusement of all (who happened to joke about that exact thing before the reveal). I literally used Lëodan’s character sheet to roll from 😛
  • I had a forest-trail map set up for the sniper fight, but I held it back unless/until it might actually be needed for close-quarters combat
  • I used the “visual detection” stuff from GURPS Vehicles (3e), as I usually do, for the forest. But those rules only have “light” and “dense” varieties of woods; I extrapolated something in-between. I’ve found the easiest way to manage fog/woods situations like that is to recalculate the Size and Speed/Range Table (relevant parts) ahead of time.
  • The Hidden Lake tower is based on the Lake Vyrnwy water straining tower

Late Edit

I should have gotten the Baron involved, wanting to know the truth about the false-princess, and had him send a contingent of troops along with the PCs to Hidden Lake. They could know the area. They could have not had horses. They could have freaked out about the crows. They could have been shot by the sniper. They could have been tricked by the kelpie. Goddammit…I hate when I figure out the perfect solution after it’s too late… 😛

FGLE Chp II:X, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 5/5. This session went really well, by all accounts—good energy throughout. Since I don’t have much to complain about, I’ll touch on some of the behind-the-scenes processes.

The Duty

Dustan’s Duty to the Wizards’ Guild appears on a “9,” which means it comes up a lot. The previous occurrence was a little underwhelming, in my opinion. I wanted to do something a little different this time, and I came up with the “conflicting choice,” which became the decision to encourage or prevent the Antagonese prince’s rescue of the princess, in order to tie it into the mission. This might have been good enough on its own, but I wanted to make it a little stronger.

Rank comes with an assumed Duty, though it can occur “whenever I feel like it.” I employed this in two ways: the PCs’ collective Duty to the Heroes’ Guild (by having Válaris promise to get the job done), and Lëodan’s Duty to the Rangers/Druids (which was also an opportunity to illustrate the rivalry between the Druids and Wizards, and their political machinations). By having the other PCs’ firmly established in the pro-Heroes’ Guild camp, Dustan’s decision is especially difficult, as it should be. By involving the king and the heads of the respective guilds, it gives the whole thing more gravitas—an appropriate rise in stakes for the last quarter.

During the process, I found myself leaning toward making this a “group” choice, but pulled back—this is a Dustan problem.

The Chase

I’ve been itching to get a proper Chase in this campaign. I almost had one in Session 8, but it didn’t quite work out; it would have been very similar. In this case, the distances involved didn’t lend themselves to the default “range bands”—”miles” (or another linear measurement) could have served that purpose well enough, but time-based measurement helped reinforce the “countdown.” I eventually decided to give the Antagonese party a head start and have PCs catch up to them, rather than an equal race off the line, to give it a little more uncertainty. (Plus I expected the PCs would blow past them anyway.)

As far as I know, the 1d6 roll for Research “hours” in Action2 is the only place that mechanic is referenced, but I’ve started to gravitate toward using it in these “ambiguous timetable” spots. I thought it worked brilliantly here, combined with Plot Points and whatnot, plus the addition of Extra Effort to the Chase itself.

I just really liked how it all blended together, and it seemed like the players liked it, as well—I’ll definitely try to use this in the future.

The Prince

I needed to properly introduce the prince as a douche, and drive home the need to get to the princess first. I expected there would be a convergence with the PCs somewhere along the Chase progress, which should occur at the end of that day, given how the mechanics worked. But it was possible the PCs either wouldn’t catch up, or pass them up in an inconvenient manner, or just choose not to stop near them at all. I did have a number of backup plans in mind, but I was fortunate to not need them. The original plan was a “barroom brawl” situation, but that required the players to make certain decisions or mistakes that couldn’t be counted on, and I didn’t want to pack in a combat segment at this point. Waygon’s “insult” was the perfect solution, and I frankly expected the PCs to make a fool of him the way they did (though I wouldn’t make it easy). I was prepared to “pull the trigger” on Waygon if they failed, but as a paid-for Ally to Maykew, I would have been forced to intervene, somehow (which I expected to involve Ser Magnus).

The Fight

Given how the last fight went, I wanted to give the PCs a properly dangerous adversary. I ramped up the mooks’ armor considerably, and some of their capabilities—shields are normally a PITA to defeat—but I held back on their numbers, thinking it might be a little too much. The PCs went through them way too quickly, but to be fair, they could easily have been beaten back. I don’t feel like I made any real mistakes, tactically. Honestly, the players got lucky with their rolls versus the enemy’s rolls, and some good tactical decisions gave them a much better advantage than I expected. In retrospect, I should have gone with 1.5-2× the PCs’ number. One thing I need to look to for the future is some “reasonable” armor-piercing capability, and I’m pretty sure it’s been a while since any of the enemy have had ranged support—just one sniper would have changed the tactical landscape considerably.

The Boss, Drago, on the other hand, would probably have killed a PC or two if they had stuck in with him, but he was always intended to slink away (or take a fall and disappear), for reasons that should be more-or-less obvious now.


  • I was on “staycation” all this week, and I used that time to watch a lot of crappy medieval-fantasy TV shows, scouring them for screenshots and ideas. I got a bit rabbit-holed looking for locations in the castle in Merlin, which I’m using for Castle Royal in the game.
  • I had Shelley (from the Friday face-to-face group) write the “myth” of Burnithrax and Summoner’s Rock; her version was a bit longer and grander than my “condensed” version.
  • An audience with the king is a scene I’ve wanted to do for years. It was a shame that Murdok’s player was late, though, as I’m sure his presence would have made it a lot messier for them. Also, I totally forgot to make them roll Savoir-Faire.
  • Dustan’s Patron, Mintôr, also triggered for this session. I was tempted to give a Plot Point again, like last time, but I decided to give him some useful mission information instead, along with using him as an excuse to remind the player to use the mirror—I was a little concerned they might not think of it. It’s a shame I couldn’t figure out how to make his “advice” in that regard a little more obscure.
  • Le suilon” means “I greet you” in Sindarin Elvish; “Mára farië” means “Good hunting”
  • This was the first encounter with Nefarian forces, also a long time in the making.
  • They just rescued a princess from a dragon; but the princess is in a different castle.
  • One downside of this campaign style is the lack of cliffhangers, with the lone exception of the two-parters. It was really important to end this one at just the right moment.

FGLE Chp II:IX, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

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 Good

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 Nitpicks

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.