Tag Archives: Campaign

Earthfall, S1E6, GM Debrief

Stream

GM confidence: 4.25/5. I could have been a little better prepared, as usual, but it all seemed to turn out more-or-less as I intended, with a caveat or two. I think it probably needed a “little something more,” but I can’t really say what that might have been.

Damien’s Flashback

Damien’s player decided to make his Objective some undefined MacGuffin, which I later regretted, as the other PCs would lack motivation to go so far out of their way to retrieve it. It needed to be defined. Given a MacGuffin has certain technical requirements, I worked backward from the end result—what would the “Resistance” need, and what could Damien reasonably possess to that end, without it being at all “useful” to the PCs? I eventually stumbled across the “photos” idea, which actually fit rather well. And there’s definitely more to the story, to be revealed later.

The Prepper’s Bunker

AKA 10 Cloverfield Lane-plus-PCs. Overall, I liked how it turned out. It took a bit longer than I had expected, but I didn’t mind that. I was happy the PCs didn’t just try to immediately kill Howard, though I was prepared for it. I got some good use out of the “Shane” NPC (stand-in for the movie’s “Emmett”). I do regret not doing some basic prep-work: like figuring out what Michelle actually knows at that moment, and why she wouldn’t just bolt out of the bunker as soon as the door opened. I was fortunate that a PC got inquisitive enough to talk to her, but I didn’t give her potential response enough forethought either—and at this point of the movie, she hadn’t discovered the earring. Off-the-cuff as it all was, I don’t think I could have scripted the end result better, even if I tried.

Ambush at the Reservoir

I wanted to throw a proper set-piece tactical combat at the players. I pulled from How It Ends again—there was a similar vehicle-sandwich ambush, though the protagonists only had a pistol to their defense. I expected some typical PC shenaniganry, and for them to make short work of the bad guys. When it came time, though, I realized it was rather late in the session, and there was no way we could finish a normal tactical combat in time. But then I also realized the PCs had a machine gun, rocket launcher, and grenade launcher. I resigned myself to an abbreviated affair as a result. Ultimately, the players did what they do best, and attacked the problem head-on (almost literally), and I just rolled with it. I’ll just have to find another opportunity.

Other Stuff

  • I’ve been making a conscious effort to get the tag-along NPCs more involved. James has been pretty easy. Shane has been useful up to this point, but now that his “mission” is over, I may need to come up with something else. Robert, on the other hand, has been particularly difficult; I did finally figure out his motivation for being there, but I haven’t fully grasped what to do with it.
  • Alas, the players caught on to my “jurisdiction” gag; now I’m gonna have to get creative to keep it from getting stale. I’ve been trying to work out some others.
  • Afterward, I realize I should have done some basic lookups on Howard’s truck beforehand, just in case
  • Also, I realize I should have actually looked at the “gun room” image more closely before declaring “whatever you see is there”—I may have bitten off more than I can chew, but in an ATE campaign, gear comes and goes.

Earthfall, S1E5, GM Debrief

Stream

GM confidence: 4.5/5. Finally. I felt okay about this session beforehand, and I thought it turned out pretty well overall. There were some missteps, but they didn’t break anything—though they certainly could have.

Not Easter Eggs

There are quite a few references in this session that are worth pointing out. I think, to qualify as an “Easter Egg,” they have to be somehow hidden, so I don’t think they meet that requirement. You can decide for yourself, I guess. 😛

  • The guys in the station wagon at the collapsed bridge were taken from the movie, How it Ends, with a little modification. Events from the movie mostly happened as-is up to this point, minus the addition of the Alien Menace. Although the movie itself is a bit “dry,” it’s actually a really interesting treatment of what has been theorized to be a “gamma ray burst”—as discussed in this video. But you ask, “Why did the gamma radiation only affect certain people?” That would be telling… 😉
  • The prepper bunker in Jackson is from 10 Cloverfield Lane. I can’t get too deep into this one since the situation is still ongoing, in-game. I will say that I have had to modify the timeline and specific background details to make it fit, of course. The PCs will be interrupting the movie events before the midpoint or thereabouts. But an interesting consequence of the PCs’ involvement, should they rescue Michelle, is that her character development as depicted in the movie won’t actually occur, so she could remain as she began the story—too scared to help others.
  • Like the Sk’ran (see previous post), the Taareh race goes all the way back to the precursors to the Daniverse. They have always been an offshoot-human species with a proto-Egyptian culture. Their name has morphed many times over the decades; in fact, all their details other than the most basic have been a bit slow to materialize. They have appeared in previous campaigns, specifically in the first and third installments of the S³M campaign. But their most recent incarnation is in Rigil Kent’s spinoff MGT2-powered campaign, The Verge, where we co-developed many of the details that currently exist (such as the format of their personal names, their communal child-rearing practices, and physiology). This session required me to actually vocalize some of their modified ancient Egyptian language, for the first time, I think. Being Rigil’s PC, the idea to make Heinlein an “alien hybrid” was originally his off-the-cuff remark that I decided to use.
  • Regarding the “personal names” above: According to what I was able to find, the ancient Egyptian word for “agent” (and also, in this case, “bystander,” which I shamelessly stole) is wpwty—I am as unsure of the pronunciation as any Egyptologist, I suspect, but I gave it my best internet-educated guess. That was the second part of Grandfather’s name, the occupation. The final part of the name, the “assignment,” is an Egyptianized pronunciation of the word “Earth”
  • “Project Genesis”/“Gen-Hisis” also owes its origins to the pre-Daniverse works. This one has been a persistent crossover element throughout the Daniverse all along, and was to be a plot feature for at least three campaigns that have not yet seen production, and one that has (Dreamland). Obviously, I can’t go into too much detail here, for spoiler reasons.
  • The alien “beasts” that appeared in this (and previous) session have also been encountered in a previous campaign, specifically Dreamland. I’m getting around to updating the visuals for them, now that I have need of it, while reconsidering some of their basic physiological features. One of my design decisions in that campaign included each of the various species having some sort of “utility feature,” of which the current PCs have discovered one (the “jaw”) and put it to good use.
  • The “incident at Area 51” is a reference to the Dreamland campaign’s intended ending.

Other Stuff

  • The session began with a lot of exposition, which is normally a no-no. Realistically, I would have had Grandfather explain a lot more in the video recording, but I elected to keep it short, and abstract the rest, rather than force everyone to listen to me read off a script for an hour or two.
  • I got a little more focused than I should have on the PCs going to Jackson next. I got a little concerned when they started talking about going a different way so soon. I’m not sure how I could possibly prepare for that, but I suspect we would have somehow managed. I was fortunate to not have to.
  • I finally got to work in a proper Skill Challenge. I like the way it turned out. The time-based penalty for rolling over into the new round was that the bug would appear mid-operation, which did occur. The Challenge very nearly failed—might have been interesting to see—but I guess that means the difficulty level was “appropriate.”
  • I honestly had not thought of a PC recovering the bug “jaw,” much less using it to cut through the bunker door. I’ll surely be more mindful of that in the future. Now I have to figure out how long before it decays too much to use.
  • Chandler’s player had never defined his Objective and I didn’t expect him to bring it up…but now he has. Now I have to scramble to figure out what it actually is, or it’s gonna get weird.

Earthfall, S1E4, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 4/5. Even with an extra week to prep for this session, I still didn’t feel remotely ready. I wonder if I ever will? But it turned out fine, and honestly, I can’t think of anything that went horribly wrong.

Improvisations

  • I expected the PCs to stop somewhere, but I did not expect them to stop at the Monster Lake Ranch on the way South—I probably should have. I had to scramble for some basic details, like screen grabs of the map, and I had no idea what might be available there. I think it went okay anyway, and the players (mostly CommJunkee) were helpful in digging up relevant info.
  • The “Terror Pod” was a planned event, but I did not have a specific location in mind, and as such, I did not have a map or establishing graphics—there’s really no excuse for that. That whole expedition to the house was on-the-fly, as I stupidly didn’t consider the PCs tracking them down. Fortunately I did actually have some 4e stats for the creatures already. I was also concerned the event would either take up too much time or not enough, close as it was to my intended end of the session. Again, I think it turned out well enough, and brought across the necessary story elements. But this was a “first contact” with a new campaign element, and it really deserved more polish.

Other Issues

  • I had to verbally describe the aliens’ external physiology, as well as the state of Grandfather’s corpse, and my attempts felt really clumsy to me; I really should have written that stuff out beforehand—this stuff is important
  • I was reasonably happy with my handling of the party NPCs. But I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to have James try to talk Robert into coming along with the PCs after Meeteetse, without really considering their motivations; now that it’s done, I’ll have to figure that out after-the-fact—not ideal.
  • I was aware of the Wind River Canyon but I didn’t realize where it was located until someone pointed out that it was on their route; it is notable enough to deserve an establishing-shot graphic, at the very least—missed opportunity
  • I really wanted to end the session with the bunker-reveal cliffhanger—I was happy with the results; but next week will begin with a bunch of exposition as a result, which can be awkward to handle
  • I keep forgetting that James is supposed to be a Will Robinson-style trouble magnet; I need to step up his danger level in the future

BTS: The Sk’ran (AKA the Alien Menace)

Since I don’t have all that much to say about the session itself, I’ll take the opportunity to talk a bit about where the campaign antagonist came from.

The origin of the Sk’ran goes back to 1991 or so, from a collaborative comic-book project, featuring myself and Rigil Kent (Phil), and a few others. But it actually predates even that period, as a continuation of an older project that predated my inclusion. I believe the name carried over from that earlier project, as did the basic “anthropomorphic insectoid” appearance. This early concept included the basic “soldier” type, and a few others. When I joined the project, I redesigned the appearance, though I was never really satisfied with it.

The comic-book project is now long defunct, but the race, as well as the “Earthfall” invasion event, lives on in the Daniverse in multiple campaigns, some of which have seen production, and some of which haven’t (yet?). The most prominent of them is the Dreamland campaign, where I merged in elements from the original X-Com, and Half-Life, expanding the bestiary considerably. I also credit Half-Life with inspiring the “utility creatures” seen throughout. Many creature types were statted for GURPS 3rd Edition as a result. I also redesigned the appearance (again) for the existing creatures, with Half-Life integration in mind.

These days, I am still unsatisfied with the rather on-the-nose design of the basic soldier, but I haven’t had the time or energy to devote to a serious redesign effort. But this campaign is forcing me to produce some new visuals anyway, as the sketches I have are very old and…sketchy. These days, I would also add the movie-version of Stephen King’s The Mist to the list of creature design influences. I have been updating the old 3e stats to 4e as needed, but also rethinking the basic assumptions about their physiology. A part of me is glad I’m now forced to update these things, and who knows when I’ll be able to make use of them in the future?

Earthfall, S1E3, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 4/5. I was definitely feeling unready, again, but I started to get more comfortable by the end of the week, and I think it turned out reasonably well in the end. I’m sure I’ll probably start feeling confident just in time to end the run 😛

Search & Rescue

Obviously, I didn’t want a TPK the way the previous session ended—you really need to earn that as GM. If you kill the entire party, they should be slow-clapping afterward, not scowling and cursing.

The first half of the session was a new thing for me, and I had to invent a few things to make it work in a gameable way. I used “This Old House” from After the End 2 as a basis for what happens when you get buried by explosion debris. I was a little concerned that the damage would be too much, but I had already declared “no pulled punches” so I kinda had to risk it. I started to go with a “Skill Challenge” from D&D 4e, but it didn’t quite feel right—not a cooperative enough situation—so I borrowed the “Task Chain” concept from MGT2 instead—very similar. I would have liked to have had a few more “flavor” elements to throw in there, but I think I successfully imparted a proper sense of urgency.

I was pretty happy with how the “search and rescue” part went. It was a little like a Skill Challenge, but I felt like separating the results would work better, for no reason I can articulate. I wanted it to feel like I wasn’t cherry-picking the NPCs’ fates, but I did employ a bit of smoke-and-mirrors via a dummy “status” table with only “KIA” results, so I could force the parents’ deaths—for dramatic purposes. That would have worked better if the Fantasy Grounds tables functionality included an “elimination” ability, to remove already-rolled results, the lack of which caused me to have to jump some hoops at the end. Fortunately, it all worked out. I wish it had occurred to me to check Disasters: Hurricane for the use of the dog during SAR beforehand. Oh, well…

First Real Combat

This combat wasn’t arbitrary. It was intended to give the players a better idea what they’re dealing with. But when it came time for the fight, the tactical situation suggested the PCs would wipe them out with little fanfare, so I added a couple more bad guys. Then when the PCs started missing, initially, I became concerned the inverse would be true. But again: “no pulled punches,” so I pressed forward. Although the fight functioned as intended, I do think, in the end, it was a little too “static,” and made the enemy seem “tactically careless.” Afterward, I do regret having not been a little more aggressive, and some of the sloppy behind-the-scenes management. But at least now I know what the PCs can handle.

Miscellaneous

  • The escape ended with fewer tag-along NPCs than I expected, but more vehicles. I have to make sure Robert’s inevitable end, down the road, is properly memorable 😛
  • I’m feeling good about the cliffhanger on this one.
  • Next session is going to settle the question of the PCs’ next destination. Given the difficulties the players had in understanding what I wanted from the Objectives, I feel pretty safe in guessing where that will be.
  • Working on the campaign, I’ve been playing catch-up the entire time, due to RL work issues. Fortunately I’ll have an extra week to potentially get ahead, for once.

Earthfall, S1E2, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 3.75/5. I did not feel any more ready for this session than its predecessor. Despite that, I had just enough going to make it work, though it could certainly have done with a bit more polish, in my opinion. But the twist, and the ACS test made it better.

Rope-a-dope

For the first half-or-so of the session, I asked the players questions about their PCs’ future plans, going back to work, etc., to get them thinking about settling in at Cody for the long-term. This was an intentional deception. Then I yanked the rug out from under them with the invasion, and started blowing up the city. It should be pretty obvious to them now that this will not be their “home.” I think that got the reaction I wanted.

Action Challenge System™ (Alpha test)

This was the first real test of the Action Challenge System (ACS), a concept I’ve been working on for some time now. It was, for me, the centerpiece of the session.

There are a lot of Action™ situations that I feel are inadequately covered by GURPS rules-as-written. I’ve found the Chase rules in Action 2 to be the most satisfying, so my intention has been to modify that concept to fit other situations, like mass combat, disaster survival, etc. We did something like this before in ConsOps when we used the Chase rules to do a “running gunfight”—with some lessons learned. Briefly, here are some ways the4 current iteration of ACS differs from Action 2 Chases:

  • Chase pursuit/flight contest is expanded to include tactical and survival contests
  • Chase maneuvers are expanded to include tactical or survival effects, depending on context, with consideration for multiple types in the same round (FREX “Move and Attack” is both movement and tactical)
  • Makes use of a proper map divided into “zones”—not always hexes—with (loosely) defined movement rates between zones
  • Passing into or out of a “threat” zone results in an “attack,” either martial or environmental (crumbling buildings, flowing lava, screaming bystanders, etc.); threat level determines the opposing Contest roll (I used the Frequency levels as a guideline)
  • Contest results can give a tactical advantage/disadvantage, allow/halt transit (by getting pinned down under fire, held up by a crowd, cut off by debris, etc.), instead of or in addition to closing/opening pursuit distance
  • I moved the skill/attack phase to the end of the round—it just works better there
  • Attacks are from/against an “aggregate” enemy rather than individuals, as the situation requires; damage is applied to the whole, and individuals are lost as enough damage is taken

The system needs a lot of work still, but I think it delivered the “look and feel” I was going for. I will discuss it at length in its own post sometime when it’s more fully-formed. Even though I know I missed a lot of little things in the process, I definitely consider it a successful test. We will see this again.

Miscellaneous

  • Introducing: the Alien Menace™—these guys have a long history in the background of the Daniverse. I really tried to get that War of the Worlds Tripod-intro feel.
  • I did have to do a lot of improvising in this one, as the PCs kept making choices I hadn’t anticipated. People survived that weren’t meant to as a result. It may make things more difficult in the future. But that’s just the GM-life.
  • I randomly determined the order and placement of the explosions/sinkholes in town well before the game started—the fact that the PCs kept running into them was entirely coincidental—really, it was.
  • Related to the above: The explosion at the ranch was “on a timer” and the PCs didn’t get clear in time—so now I have to improvise a way out 😛
  • I realize afterward that, of the PCs’ written Objectives, only one of them is actually “actionable” right now, which entirely defeats the purpose of having them in the first place (that being: having multiple choices, rather than one obvious choice for what to do next). Good news: that means I have a pretty good idea where they’ll go next, even though that isn’t what I wanted.

Earthfall, S1E1, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 3.5/5. I did not feel quite ready to run as I would like, from the start, but I felt it went pretty well. I can’t identify anything that went truly wrong, but I had a nagging, possibly-irrational sense that it could, somehow, have been better. But nevermind that…

The Characters

I’m pretty happy with the PC lineup—not Sea Dogs good, but good. They go well with the campaign theme, I think. Plus, there is a little more potential for inter-party conflict than usual, which could be fun down the road.

The Manhunt Narrative

I led it off with something a little different (for me), that being a mostly player-led narrative sequence. I asked a few leading questions, in turn, and let them narrate the events that would lead up to the “actual” start. I would say it went pretty well—I expected it to—though it did result in a couple of unplanned elements. One: I intended the deputy to be accompanied by a partner (that I intended to kill off), and wasn’t wholly prepared for him to charge off on his own without him. Two: I had not even considered the addition of the EMT’s otherwise-inevitable partner. I “should have known better” in both cases. I briefly considered offing the EMT-partner, but decided against it—wouldn’t have been the same.

The Wakeup

The “wake-up” scene garnered exactly the reaction I intended, by all accounts. The players did everything right, here, including playing up the suspicion that Heinlein might actually have killed the other deputy. There was a bit of a downside, though, in that they seemed to dawdle a bit trying to understand, and I had to nudge them forward. It’s no surprise to me that I kinda forgot about the EMT-partner, “Turk,” and he kept lagging behind my attention—there will undoubtedly be more surprise party-members that I need to keep relevant, so that’s something I need to try to improve.

The Long Road

I opted to keep the travel bits simplified here, as it isn’t the real focus of this part of the story. I wanted to keep it moving along. Aside from making people point fingers-of-suspicion at other PCs, I intended the dead deputy as a travel problem to overcome. It was at this point, as the PCs officially got under way, that the players started mucking up my not-so-careful plans and making me think on my feet:

  • In the previous version of this campaign, which I ran for the face-to-face group, everyone followed along on Google Earth on the big screen, and could see what was ahead as it was encountered. In this case, the players were keeping track off-screen without being so directed, and, annoyingly, finding things I didn’t notice (like the “ranch”).
  • I didn’t really consider how the campers might be equipped—things like bicycles.
  • I didn’t look over the PCs’ gear as thoroughly as I had thought (or intended), and therefore didn’t notice the ATV—though, afterward, I think it would have been less of a problem than I thought at the time.
  • I expected them to ask about horses. The “tractor” was definitely a surprise, though.
  • After the overnight at Meeteetse, now with the tractor, I did not actually expect them to go back to the campground. I was afraid it would be a problem with the timing of things, but the tractor actually made up for that delay. A little too well, actually—they got to Cody a little earlier than I intended. (Afterward, I realize I could easily have thrown in some maintenance on the tractor to burn some daylight.)

The Arrival

I wasn’t happy with the stuff after the PCs’ arrival in Cody. It just felt muddy, rambling, to me. I made several admittedly-minor “story” mistakes. I struggled to figure out how to bring the other sheriff’s people into the scene. I made a huge rookie mistake—calling for a Physician roll without consideration for what happens if it fails. (Logically, that character should probably not have been treating the patient at the time, in the first place.) Finally, we were in an awkward spot for a proper cliffhanger, which forced me to jury-rig something at the last second. It probably turned out better than it felt to me at the time, but I will definitely focus on how to handle all that better in the future.

GURPS After the End: Earthfall, Campaign Introduction

I wasn’t expecting to be running again so soon after the end of Sea Dogs. But the Olympus (Saturday) group found itself between GMs, and when the dust settled, I ended up next on the schedule again. Earthfall is, effectively, a “spiritual successor” to the previous After the End campaign I ran for the Core Group (Friday)—same overall concept, in a new apocalyptic setting. I should start running a couple of weeks from now—early August—barring any unexpected delays.

Introduction

I originally pitched this campaign to Olympus in May of 2019, but retracted it in favor of Sea Dogs when one of the others started talking about a possible Post-Apocalypse run. Back then, I had done the usual Q&A barrage to sort out the particulars, all of which I kept for this run, pretty much as-is. One of the players wasn’t a fan of the former eschatological premise, so that was replaced. I’m keeping the nature of that replacement close-to-the-vest for the moment, but it’ll become apparent very early on.

This isn’t the first time I’ve attempted this current campaign in some form—I pitched it to the Core Group, in 2011, and a similar storyline was featured in a couple of sequel-concepts to Dreamland and Temporal Solutions (which tended to overlap a lot anyway). As an official “alternate timeline” of the Daniverse, all the usual background elements exist (even if they don’t actually appear). Plus, anyone familiar with the official Daniverse timeline will likely recognize the term “Earthfall,” and have a pretty good idea what it’s about as a result—though that could be a trick. 😉

The Player-Characters

The initial pregame Q&A resulted in a basic plan for the PC group: they would be “first-responders,” in a less-populated part of the country, on a manhunt in the forest when SHTF. We opted for a low-level start: 150 point, non-cinematic nobodys. Inspired by my Outlanders campaign, they would use names from classic sci-fi writers—though I can’t think of a catchy reference like the “Gun Show” at the moment, sadly. I decided on a town near Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. The “first-responder” thing morphed a bit in the working process: we ended up with one of the PCs as the kidnapper being brought in by a deputy-sheriff and some other manhunt participants, volunteer or otherwise.

I ripped off the Sea Dogs “Treasure Maps” concept here, as well. Each PC has an “Objective”—some thing he needs to do, place he needs to reach, person he needs to find, etc. It serves the same purpose as its inspiration, that is, to establish differing personal goals, to get and keep the PCs moving actively forward.

The Plan

Other than the new setting, my plan is basically the same as the previous After the End campaign. It will be a no-pulled-punches pure-sandbox making heavy use of Google Earth, tarot card draws, and random encounters. Unlike its predecessor, which predated the release of GURPS After the End, this one will feature material from that series as well. There is one potential issue with this run, though, which is that Google Earth isn’t accessible through the Fantasy Grounds VTT software—we can still use it, externally, of course, but it won’t be a part of the live-stream or recording for YouTube. This probably means I’m going to have to use a lot of screenshots, some of which may need to be created on the fly. I’m going to plan on doing a standard 12-week run, but that may change as we get under way.

Closing (Or Rather, Opening)

I feel pretty confident running this campaign. I’ve done it before, and I know what works and doesn’t. Given it’s a sandbox, though, I have no idea how/where it’s going to end up. Should be an interesting gauge of how I’ve improved (or not) as a GM.

Sea Dogs Chapter I, GM Retrospective

Overall, I have to say that I’m pretty happy with how this campaign run went. There were some difficulties here and there, but they were easily overcome, for the most part. The run went for twelve sessions, which is the longest I’ve run for Olympus so far (double the nearest, at six), and tied for my longest run ever. I did not suffer the “attendance issues” I’ve always struggled with: there was only one session with partial attendance, and a single delay in the middle of the run. I didn’t feel exhausted at the end, like I usually do, and I might have been able to continue longer.

Lessons learned

Preparation: I had proven, to my satisfaction, that week-before-only session prep can work, but I didn’t strictly adhere to that method this time. I had worked out a bunch of “drop-ins,” events that could occur wherever the PCs ended up. In the latter part of the run, however, when I was scrambling to come up with some content for the session, I found I didn’t have enough of them, and I think the narrative suffered for it a little. I now know roughly how much material I can expect to go through during a run, so I can be better prepared for the next—so that’s good.

Sandbox: This wasn’t my first time running a more-or-less pure sandbox. My objective was to allow the players to do as they pleased while I throw obstacles in their path. Like its inspiration, Traveller, visiting a limited set of ports in a linear fashion results in a narrative that’s easy to get out in front of. My handing out story locations (via the Treasure Maps) at the start meant they only needed to map out which ones to hit in which order. I was fortunate the players didn’t really deviate from the plan we established in the first session.

Minutiaæ: The “Wilderness Travel” stuff from DF16 went a little clunky at first, but with some tweaking along the way, the players and I started to get the flow of it. They even started to track their own progress on the map, and came up with their own downtime material without prompting—a good sign they’re invested. While making the players roll for everything is a big part of the sandbox/hex-crawl feel, it’s also a pain-in-the-ass to GM—my need for foreknowledge won out, in the end, but I think we ended up with a workable balance. Similarly, the voyage’s inevitable logistical concerns started a little rough, but smoothed out relatively quickly. But I found myself forgetting or intentionally bypassing/delaying things as we went on. Now I’m considering streamlining—for example, next run, I will probably turn provisioning into an “automatic allotment” (as I had for maintenance expenditures) rather than bothering the players with it. I’m also considering instituting some version of the standard Cost of Living mechanics to cover purchasing of lodging and whatnot in port, since I haven’t managed to consistently enforce purchasing of those things.

Random Encounters: My theory on random encounters has been that the players need to know what’s on the list—if they know one option is certain disaster, it will provide a bit of tension/drama when the dice are cast. I never quite managed to build out a “normal” encounter list, though, and ended up using Universe Reaction Rolls, which everyone understands well enough without the need for specific details. I started out having the players roll them out in-game, but that soon fell away to me rolling them up between sessions. It just flowed so much more smoothly if we didn’t have to stop the narrative to roll more dice (especially for multiple in-game days in a row), and figure out how to interpret the results. For now, I’ll save the old-school player-rolled stuff for another time.

Spreadsheets: They were not only helpful, but necessary to make it all work. That said, they ended up mostly being used by myself, in the background, and not by the players, as I had intended. It’s less of a disappointment for me, I suppose, than it is a recognition of what information is important to telling the story, and what level of management the players will invest in. I’ll end up shuffling some stuff around before next time, taking the stuff they don’t need out of their sight. There were multiple instances where “bugs” resulted in some screwups at game time, and I really need to use the downtime to make improvements.

Combat: The reduced focus on tactical combat was intentional, not only due to the potential lethality of the Low-Tech non-magical (on the surface) setting, but it also just doesn’t really fit the narrative—these PCs aren’t typical murder-hobos. I wasn’t intentionally avoiding, combat, but I didn’t generally try to force it either. The combat that did occur, though, felt a bit too perfunctory—I need to find ways to make the fights we do have more memorable on their own. Naval combat, on the other hand, was something I wasn’t sure the PCs were ready for—specifically, due to their very small ship—but the players were aware of that, and I knew they weren’t going to bite off more than they could chew. I’d like to get them into a naval action at least once while they’re still aboard the current ship, but it will have to be carefully planned ahead, lest there be a campaign-ending result.

Other Stuff

  • I kept trying to focus on “storytelling,” with some occasional success; I think it’s easy to tell when I actually got it right. But the more “mechanical” nature of RPGs makes it sometimes difficult to stay out of the weeds. Also, I’m not certain to what degree I succeeded in getting across that “nautical” feel I wanted. I expect I will always be working on this one.
  • I figured out a great mechanic for good-play rewards, the “Bennies” thing, and then hardly made use of it due to my focus on other goings-on in the moment. It’s disappointing. I can’t really consider this a good test of the mechanic. I’ll just have to try to do better next time.
  • This was my first campaign to get full, regular use of the “Activities in Town” concept (turning the shore-business question into “multiple choice” instead of an “essay”), and I definitely feel like it helped organize things. Now that I’ve seen it in action, I’ve got some improvements in mind. I also intend to get the NPC crew a little more actively involved with their own on-shore shenaniganry.
  • I used the tarot to generate details quite a lot in this campaign, but I’m learning how to read them well enough that I haven’t needed to look things up as often. Progress.
  • The idea of non-players influencing the game bothered me quite a lot, at first. But we did find some ways for the Twitch audience to participate—specifically, using the chat-bot die-roller—which turned out less awkward than I expected. I had some fun giving the regulars cameo-characters. This will likely continue in the future.
  • Using real-life weather isn’t a new GMing concept for me—I’ve done that several times now. While it didn’t give me any mechanical trouble, the weather for Jan/Feb wasn’t all that interesting, until the end. But I know that the further the story goes into the year, the more “interesting” it will get, so I don’t think it needs fixing, per se.
  • I still haven’t found a sufficient answer to the question of trade-restricted ports buying/selling of provisions, etc. I’m fine with continuing as I have, since it’s functional, but not knowing the right answer will continue to bother me until I find it.

Final Thoughts, and Next Chapter

The feedback I’ve gotten since the season wrap-up tells me the campaign has been well received, maybe moreso than any previous run I can think of. I’ve really enjoyed running it, too. Maybe the two are related to some degree, or influenced by the same factors, at least. The replays are also performing really well on YouTube. Ultimately, though, I didn’t get nearly as far into the story as I wanted, but that means there’s plenty more material for next time. Historically, it’s been about a year for the GMing wheel to circle back around to my turn again, so I’d expect Chapter Two around the end of 2020 or early 2021—but it will definitely come.

Sea Dogs, Chapter I:XII (Finale), GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 4/5. It was another desperate, last-minute effort, with the added weight of the need to wrap up the season properly, that I feel I barely squeaked out, behind-the-scenes, but it worked. As much as I’ve actually enjoyed running this campaign, I’ve been struggling to keep up, lately.

The Central Conflict

It was Thursday when I realized that, although I had a number of disconnected individual events that would occur during the session (most of which were leftovers we didn’t get to, from the previous session), there was no “central conflict” around which the session would revolve. Very weak storytelling. I hobbled together the Jack Rackham/pearls/Scooby-Doo thread, which I feel worked well enough, though I was still wrestling with the details an hour before the session.

Medical Drama

For the first time during this campaign, a PC would require surgery. It was very possible he could die as a result. Very dramatic; everyone was prepared for the worst. We tried to sort out all the modifiers ahead of time. I had already intended to be using the rules from Low-Tech Companion 1, which we used once after the duel in the first session. I wanted to have the rolls made in secret and reveal the results in a more narrative fashion.

The end result was rather less dramatic than expected. Spenser succeeded both rolls; one needed a single Benny to become a success, and the other was a Critical Success on its own. The automatic damage rolled was really low, and further reduced by the surgery success. It was a little anticlimactic, truth be told. I tried to keep them guessing about the actual recovery time, but it turns out that’s really difficult to do, the mechanics being what they are.

Unfortunately it did mean that Rogers would be out of action for recovery. The player ended up bailing on the session early as a result, which is too bad—I think it might have been more fun for him to play the stubborn patient, and continue to contribute in spite of his wounds, against doctor’s orders. Oh, well.

Raynard Adler

AKA Raymond Atchisson, Mr. Atwell, etc. This is another old character of mine—I believe, the second character I ever created in GURPS—and, essentially, a self-character-plus. He’s a time-traveling antiques-dealer and adventurer. Basically, in this case, he came to Nassau looking to get his hands on one or more of Rackham’s pearls for a client, and landed in a hot mess. Afterward, he teleported out to Barbados a week or so before, to send himself a letter detailing the positions, etc., of the bad guys in the warehouse, and enlist the PCs’ aid.

This is not the first time this character has appeared in a campaign of mine: he showed up in both timelines of Fortune Hunters, Inc.; and was planned to appear in The Crusade eventually; I also played the character as a GMPC in an early Temporal Solutions game.

I don’t have plans to introduce any other of my personal characters in the campaign. Last one. Honest. 😛

Other Stuff

  • Throughout the campaign, I had a bunch of what I refer to as “drop-ins,” events I can easily wire in wherever the PCs happen to be. But I clearly didn’t have enough of them to last the whole season. At least now I have a better idea how many I will need, and what it takes to implement them, before the next season rolls around.
  • I made an effort to tie this season finale to the Campaign Theme, and the business with the pearls—that is, the merchant not keeping the secret when he should have—fit nicely, after much last-minute tweaking.
  • There were several social interactions in the session that, for no good reason, I didn’t give nearly enough thought to before they happened. Something I’ve decided is that in all such future cases, I should take the “main six” social skills (as implied in Social Engineering: Diplomacy, Fast-Talk, Intimidation, Savoir-Faire, Sex-Appeal, Streetwise) and write a note or two toward each approach, just to establish a baseline for responses.
  • Likewise, there were a few elements for which I had never sorted out the details, though they had been in the works from the very beginning (or before). I found myself in a last-minute scramble to sort them out. Adler’s business in Nassau was one. Friendly’s background with Hayden’s son was another.
  • Jack Rackham’s lost bag of 5000 pesos worth in black pearls is not a historical occurrence (to my knowledge). Rather, it comes from Season 1, Episode 2, of Black Sails.
  • Artegal’s discovery of his own black pearl was the result of his newly-added Perk: Moneyclip Magnet.
  • I realized afterward that I probably should have rolled for random encounters during the PCs’ downtime in town, but maybe the padding wasn’t really necessary.
  • Boissonade’s presence was the result of Payne’s Enemy (Rival) finally showing up for the first time since they lost them at Île-à-Vache. The wager was originally intended to occur at that island, but their navigation failure during the race made their arrival narratively impractical. It also meant I never got to introduce any of the La Dame Blanche crew, since I failed to do so in Kingston. They should be more available in the near-future, though, now that they’re in the area. The reappearance of Handsome Ned is another matter entirely…
  • I had to sort out the weather for two weeks and hope the PCs didn’t stay in Nassau longer than that. As I did so, I saw there was going to be a bit of a storm on the 11th-12th—gusts up to 50mph—and thought it would be hilarious if they ended up setting sail that day. They did. Totally unintentional. 😛
  • I had a hard time working out a proper cliffhanger for the session—more important due to being the end of the run. I went through quite a few revisions before I settled on Dora’s kidnapping, which was the easiest to drop in wherever the PCs ended up, and I expected it to be effective—and it was.

Wrapping Up

My original intent was to end the season at Campeche with the first Treasure Map done. My adjusted expectation was that it would end at Havana. Obviously, it ended up even shorter, but that’s fine. That just means I have some big set-pieces coming up at the beginning of the next. With this season over, my intention is not to set it aside, but really focus on fleshing out the bits I know are coming up—especially Campeche—and generate more drop-ins. After a bit of a break. If the usual pattern continues, I would expect to see Sea Dogs return for Season 2 at the end of the year, or beginning of 2021.

Sea Dogs, Chapter I:XI, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 3/5. This session revolved mostly around a combat encounter, and while everything outside the combat went pretty well, the combat itself felt rather sloppy, at least, to me. To be honest, my planning for this week’s session could have benefited from a few more days to process, and I feel like it showed in the execution.

Calm Before the Storm

I had some basic stuff planned leading up to the fight. I presumed it wouldn’t take very long to go through it—that turned out to be wrong, though I couldn’t say what took so long.

  • We’ve been getting more comfortable with the “sea travel” bits, settling into a rhythm. That rhythm was interrupted by some character stuff, but that’s fine—I want that to happen.
  • The encounter with the impressed schooner served a couple of purposes: the obvious, the way-out for Geoffrey de Saloman, but also to start setting up the British as being less-than-upright. I don’t personally have anything against the Brits (more than anyone else in the period), but I also don’t want them to be looked to as the shining-good-guy-city-on-a-hill either, and that means tearing them down a little, if just as a reminder.
  • I worked in a bit more harassment from the Revenue Service which had been previously lacking.
  • I realized I had been missing an opportunity to get the NPC crew a bit more involved by not giving them their own “shore business” to take care of at port. I decided to give them all a tarot draw, ignoring anything but face-cards. I got some results I wasn’t expecting, but I managed to make something out of it, I think. I’ll try to keep that up in the future.
  • The introduction of Raynard Adler went mostly according to (much-adjusted at the last minute) plan. In spite of this scene being in the works since the beginning, I never actually fleshed it out properly, and I had to fill in a lot of holes. For some reason, though, I expected all of the PCs to be present, not just one—I should know better. 😛

Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

We hadn’t had a proper fight in a while. I expected it to consume a lot of game-time, as they do, but I also expected to get to it earlier. It really felt sloppy, to me. I think the players didn’t notice so much, as usual, but I really wish I had done better.

  • The map was bad, in retrospect. I had focused on the PCs’ approach, and the possibility of taking the fight into the street, and therefore got a map of a much wider area than was needed. That took away clarity and detail from the warehouse itself, where it was more useful. I also really needed an establishing shot of the warehouse itself, which would have helped the players decide on points-of-entry and whatnot.
  • I had expected a more one-sided, quick battle, like the one in Santo Domingo. In the moment, I realized I had failed to actually set that up properly, and kinda fumbled it.
  • I was completely unprepared for the PCs to enlist the NPC crew in the operation—again, I should know better. When the fight got going, I didn’t have the NPCs entered into the combat tracker, which resulted in me forgetting them entirely. I was fortunate the players started dragging them along without me.
  • I keep forgetting to check the Malf numbers for black-powder weapons; we’ve probably missed some misfires here and there.
  • Based on some of the missteps I made in this combat, here are a few lessons to learn:
    • Always ask yourself how the bad guys are armed, and how ready they are
    • Always make sure it’s easy to tell which is which at a glance
    • Always clarify possible entry points, even if they’re unlikely to be used
    • Regular ally NPCs should be statted and ready to be dropped in quickly—no excuse not to

Other Stuff

  • I was pleased/relieved that when Geoffrey said people would be asking after him, the appropriate PCs said they would keep his secret—otherwise the “What? No!” response couldn’t have worked 😀
  • More on Raynard Adler next time…
  • The players didn’t end up asking some questions of Adler I felt were obvious (again), but there’s opportunity for that next time.
  • As it turns out, Aikido techniques are really difficult to describe to/by someone who knows nothing of Eastern martial arts (like the PCs)
  • The session ended where I originally wanted, but not where I had intended at the time
  • Lt. Rogers and Mr. Bold are going to end up requiring surgery to remove bullets (in spite of what I had said in the session—that would turn out to be incorrect)

Series Finale Coming Up

The injuries are going to end up causing the PCs to remain in Nassau for an extended period to heal, which is going to disrupt the narrative intentions I had before the session. I was already unsure how to end the series, and that delay won’t help. On the other hand, I’ve got material to last the session already, I think, so I can afford to devote more time to figuring out how to do a proper wrap-up. I really need it to end on the right note.