GM Confidence: 4/5. I actually felt pretty good about this one, in the end. Thanks to the two-week delay, I wasn’t under-prepared this time, though that delay comes with some unfortunate consequences.
This session was supposed to have happened two weeks prior, and it nearly did. I had warned everyone that this was a bad time for me to be GMing, and that assertion was definitely accurate. Work has been…more work than usual, of late, which is never conducive to good gaming prep, for a variety of reasons. A (becoming “predictable”) late-campaign stress breakdown (aggravated by work conditions) undermining my confidence in the material I had prepared, and a broken air-conditioner in the apartment on a hot game day, caused me to falter in the (literal) last minutes, and postpone. I was already going to be out the following week to attend my son’s college graduation, delaying the session further. Anyway, I completely unplugged from the campaign for (most of) the first week, and got back to it with a good head-start on the next. But the delay(s) pushed the campaign further toward summer, and after some discussion, we decided I had better wrap it up early. Therefore, the campaign will end on session eleven—greatly offending my (quasi-)OCD.
Risks and Manipulations
I knew this session was going to consist almost-entirely of a wilderness travel segment. I didn’t want to stretch it out too far, as it is “filler” after all, if I’m honest. But I did want the players to feel like they’d “earned” their success when they reached the Treasury, so it needed some teeth.
I realized somewhat late in the process (as usual) that a big problem with the content I had was lack of real consequences for and/or chance of failure during the trek into the jungle. There were things happening, but success was more-or-less assumed. Real consequences are what separate boredom from edge-of-your-seat anticipation—it’s worth its own article, and might get one at some point. Given the lateness, I didn’t have much time to re-engineer things, but what I could do is “fake it” a little.
A GM’s psychological manipulation of the Players is not just acceptable, but an essential part of the GM’s toolset (not to mention other literary applications, in general). You probably do it all the time without realizing it. In this session, my attempt to manipulate the players was quite deliberate:
- I decided to clarify all the potential risks before the characters set out, just to place them at the forefront of their minds. Likewise, I encouraged the players to ponder what might cause them to turn back. A consequence doesn’t have to be “real” to be effective, though in this case, I did give a thought to what I might do in the highly unlikely event they did decide to turn back. Ideally, I would rather deliver this sort of thing in-game, through NPCs or whatnot, rather than via GM exposition, but it was all I had at the time.
- The use of the actor from Predator as the guide got the players expecting a “creature” to be lurking in the jungle—also the later “staring into the jungle” incident, another movie callback.
- Like with the “dinner” in session 8, I used a “combat” map to set up the marching order. This served multiple purposes: to get the players paranoid about an ambush, which was later justified; to set up “social geography” for conversations; and to work around the limitation with the built-in “marching order” panel in Fantasy Grounds, which doesn’t allow you to add “non-combatants.”
- Knowing there’s another party out there “racing” for the prize, and that they might have a shortcut/advantage, got the players thinking about trying to keep things moving quickly.
- Losing some porters along the way helped to get them wondering if they’d be able to complete the mission (especially if they lost more)
- Building up the guide, and then taking him away suddenly, is a trick I’ve used before to ramp up tension (a really long time ago)
And the Rest
The session focused a lot on Sir Randel—I usually try to avoid focusing too much on one character, but this is the climax of his story, so I thought it was warranted. I ended about where I expected/wanted, but I had to cut some corners to get there: using Sir Randel’s Intuition without his player’s asking for it, and using a Universe Reaction roll basically like Luck—a clumsy solution in the heat-of-the-moment. The next session is the “money shot” of the campaign, so I really need to get that one right.
- I don’t think I fully realized how much medical gameplay was going to be involved until game-time
- I pre-rolled the results of the ambush, since I knew where/when it would go off—no reason to roll all that out in the moment if you don’t have to
- After the assassination attempt, there was a big miscommunication about what had been observed where. As a result, everyone went to the top of the cenote, where nothing had happened, to look for clues. Afterward, I think maybe they had assumed he had fallen from the top, into the water? I know I didn’t say that, though. I had to fudge some stuff there at the last second, so I’m not surprised it went a little askew, and the misunderstanding threw me off a little.
- I tried a new technique for handling the social issues—specifically interrogations here—based on the concept that each party should always be “attacking” or “defending”; basically, I defined the bad guys’ “defense strategy” and used that to guide their responses. I think I like these results better than previous attempts, but I need to process it a bit more.