Tag Archives: Dungeon Fantasy

FGLE Chp II:III, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 3/5. This session went mostly as planned, but I really buggered part(s) of it, dragging the whole thing down, in my opinion. A rough week at work resulted in a rough week prepping, and the session didn’t get the thorough attention-to-detail it needed.

What Went Right

There were two “organizational” foci for me in this session, and those both went rather well, actually. The first was pacing: The previous two sessions went a little longer than I intended, so I wanted to keep the early parts moving in this one, and get to the climax on-time. This worked out as I intended. The second: I mentioned in the last debrief that I wanted to start addressing the individual players rather than asking intentions of the group as a whole. I did that in this session, and I think it worked out pretty well—definitely better organized. I will be using that from now on.

What Went Okay

There was a long-distance travel bit again. Other than taking a bit more time than I had anticipated deciding whether or not to rent horses—I didn’t realize anyone might not want to—the travel-planning wasn’t too painful. As to the travel itself: On the one hand, it went pretty quickly and smoothly. On the other hand, I missed some opportunities for some “color”—especially Ser Magnus shenanigans.

I was concerned about the “village meeting” being a big info-dump with no real opportunity for PCs’ input. Obviously, I didn’t want to script out a huge, multi-party argument, so I tried to distill it down to the most basic points, to deliver the necessary facts and detail the factions involved. I don’t think it took too much time, and I feel like it delivered what I intended.

The combat went reasonably well, and about as quickly as I had anticipated. I was very deliberate about describing the battlefield conditions at the beginning. I had some fun with the spells. The goblins were a bit weak, I think, and I forgot some rules here-and-there, as usual. Once again, I really wanted to get into the Fantastic Dungeon Grappling but none of the bolas hit. Behind-the-scenes: I had decided that in the abstracted larger battle the Shariff would take the same damage as the worst-off PC, and his right-hand-man would take double that—Maykew’s was the only injury, at the end.

What Went Wrong

Just to get the least-worst out of the way: I had to shoe-horn in the town crier this time, which was less than ideal to start with. And the Ferris Bueller ripoff was fine on its own. But for some reason, I just couldn’t read the lines in the proper “voice”—apparently I’ve developed a “reflex” in that regard. I meant to watch some of those scenes on YouTube beforehand, but I was scrambling to get everything sorted before the game already, and didn’t get to. I feel like it sounded terrible, so much that I’m cringing at the thought of hearing it again. A golden opportunity somewhat wasted.

It was late in the process when I decided the fairy-forest should be a High Mana area, and I didn’t (a) refresh my memory on what that actually does, and (b) figure out how that interacts with Sanctity (Clerical/Divine Magic). It’s a shame about the latter, because this would have been an ideal opportunity to explore that aspect. I’m putting that on the list of things I need to nail down ASAP. But this is also fairly minor.

Now, the complete screw-up: The “fairy traps” scene was what I am referring to as a “Skill Gauntlet”: basically, a Skill Challenge without a specific goal to achieve other than to get through it, inspired, here, by the French troops traveling through the enchanted forest in The Brothers Grimm. The intention was that for every incident, a man would be lost, and if the “save” failed, a second; also, for each failure, an additional goblin appears at the combat scene (that is, the missing troops meant the PCs’ share of the bad guys would be larger). Similarly, for each failed attempt, I would add on another incident (capped at three additional). The concept is sound, I think, I just managed to completely botch the execution. All of this could have been remedied with a little more attention during prep.

  • I failed to communicate the parameters and expectations, as I had learned to do with Skill Challenges. Specifically, I failed to communicate that the “saves” were an immediate, reflexive action. This led to much confusion, and questions I wasn’t prepared to answer, like “How fast are they going, and how far?”
  • The PCs’ choice of guide was going to determine the BAD for the scene. When it was under way, I forgot about BAD entirely, throughout.
  • I had not nailed down how the PC’s would be “chosen” to act. I did have the “1d6” I intended to use to determine who was near enough to each other to give assistance, but while that mechanic has worked quite well for me in most cases, here it kinda made it worse. After-the-fact, I’m actually not certain what the right way to handle that would have been.
  • The above point resulted in “choosing” the wrong PC for the wrong incident, resulting in spending waaaaay too much time trying to find a spell Dustan could use to rescue a guy. I ended up stepping in and putting a stop to it, but I felt really bad about doing so—taking away player agency is a big no-no.
  • I had, sadly, not given any thought to what the group would do about those “left behind.” After-the-fact, I realize there was not enough urgency established to justify leaving them alone—which might have been easily remedied.
  • Because of the confusion and excessive time taken to make decisions—and my mental state as a result—I went ahead and cut the Gauntlet off at four incidents, when I had quite a few more “prepared.” At least the PCs succeeded at all of them (without the BAD penalty).

In the end, there’s really nothing to be done but to try to do better next time.


FGLE Chp II:II, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 4.5/5. Aside from a handful of very-minor mistakes, I’m really pleased with how this one turned out.

One of my chief goals of this session was the presentation of Ser Bryton Good-Heart and his relationship to the campaign theme (that is: is Fame and Fortune really all that great?). I feel like this part was a great success. All the players were appropriately scratching their heads and raising eyebrows at his shenaniganry as I intended, but they also “figured him out” by the end, without me really having to explain.

I was concerned that this episode in particular would be a bit of a railroad, with the PCs just following Ser Bryton along. It turned out okay, in that regard, I think. I tried to give them plenty of choices along the way to preserve their overall agency. But it’s definitely a situation I usually intend to avoid.

Even before the campaign got under way, I was concerned about pacing versus content. My intent was to make all the individual “jobs” (with a couple of intentional exceptions) be contained within one session. So far, so good. But the first two did run a little short of 30 minutes late. That’s not so bad. But the session recordings allow me to go back and see where I might have trimmed the fat a little better, and I will be paying attention to that in the future. I already have some thoughts in that regard.

This was the first session where the PCs would be traveling away from the Capital. Handling “travel” is something I’ve wanted to smooth out in this run. While I am still using Dungeon Fantasy 16: Wilderness Adventures as a basis, I am more focused on “getting on with it” rather than making it its own mini-adventure—travel is not the focus of this run (unlike something like Earthfall). That said, in this session, the PCs were mostly just following along, so there wasn’t much (in-game) prep to be done. I had run across the idea of taking multiple PCs’ rolls for a particular situation and totaling the margins-of-success; I decided to use that here and see how it worked. I’d say it worked out, at least, when it comes to generating Plot Points—ended up with a lot fewer of them than if they had been considered individually, which is appropriate.

The (very minor) fail-point with regard to travel—that appeared in a couple of other spots as well—is that when asking the group what their intentions are, things have a tendency to get a little muddy. I am realizing that it’s probably far more efficient to go to each player individually, in sequence, and ask them what their intentions are, then execute, rather than wait for the group to sort out who’s talking, and who’s handling this-or-that. We’ll see if that works better in the next session. Interrogation scenes are notorious for this kind of thing.

Probably my biggest fail-point for the session was with the “fishing” segment. I really had not planned for the PCs to stay behind and keep an eye on Ser Bryton, in which case they would have directly observed the assassination attempt, and the interrogation afterward would have been moot—that would have been a shame. This is another “I should have known better” situation; my plan depended on them all to leave together, and that’s a no-no. Fortunately, the players’ compromise solution worked out for me. Secondarily, the discussion about whether to stay or go took a little longer than I would have liked, but there’s not a whole lot one can do about that except to allow sufficient time for it.

I actually had several “church” maps standing by, but the one I chose fit the image of the interior best. Unfortunately, it didn’t have enough exterior to allow a “literal” tactical representation. I had bet on the PCs to work from the inside, and I lost that bet. I really should have extended that map a little further. We were so late getting to the combat that I was concerned the session would run intolerably late, but the PCs got in some lucky hits that made it go by faster than usual. I’m almost disappointed I didn’t really get to “explore” the bad guys capabilities here; this was my first time running proper spellcasters. I was annoyed about forgetting the Fright Check was supposed to be -3 for the Terror spell—that would have changed the outcome quite a bit.


  • Ser Bryton is the mirror image of Geralt of Rivia from the Witcher (et al). I used images from the series and games a lot in the session.
    • The prostitute, Trisste (who was actually an informant) = Triss
    • Taxford = Blaviken (visually, not “literally”)
    • The “fishing” hole was where Geralt fished out the djinn in the TV series
    • The village of Hammlet image is White Orchard from the game, though the name is also an homage to Hommlet from D&D’s Temple of Elemental Evil—I had originally thought to work more of that in
  • Mae govannan, mellonamin = Sindarin Elvish for “Well met, my friend”
  • Shamukh, murkhûn = Dwarvish for “Hail, shield-man” (best I could do 😛 )
  • Murdok’s Secret triggered for this session, though I think he got off a little easy—supposed to have to take action to suppress its revelation
  • The priests from whom Maykew nicked the relic should, legally, have raised the hue and cry but (I justified after the fact, admittedly) their practice of selling relics (or access to them) in the first place is illegal
  • The bartender Crit Failed his resistance to Murdok’s intimidation, which doesn’t mean anything extra in a Quick Contest, but he did fail really badly
  • I had a couple more incidents of Ser Magnus shenaniganry that I forgot to work in, sadly
  • The cultists were using the “Dark Path” magical style from the recently-released Magical Styles – Horror Magic, which I added in at the last minute. I pulled their spell list from there; it just happened to have the ones I wanted.
  • Phil picked up on my The Middleman trick already, of having the episodes’ bad guys repeat the same line of soliloquy; you will see this again

FGLE Chp II:I, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 3.95/5. Not a bad start, really, IMO—certainly better than the start of Chapter I—but a handful of minor mistakes and an undefinable sense of “clunkiness” on my part (deserved or not) prevent me from giving it a full “4.”

There were some missed opportunities with regard to some dialogue, here and there. I had learned that I need to write out bits of dialogue/monologue that need to be delivered in my notes, regardless of whether or not I intend to read them directly. I didn’t take the time to do that here, and it showed, I think. One of the benefits of doing so is making sure certain pieces of information are delivered. But sometimes, even that doesn’t work.

Any time you know a complicated mechanic will be called for, write down the damned page numbers! I’m usually really good about that, but I forgot to write the location of the “Gain Admission” stuff in Social Engineering, and that lost me some time. Having said that, it had actually not occurred to me that the PCs would be talking to a clerk or somesuch, and I needed to sort out the effects of Status on that interaction. Another oops. I accidentally breezed past the PCs’ opportunity to learn what the bustle was about at City Hall, too. It wasn’t super important, but it could have affected things further in, and the effort I spent generating that content was wasted.

I thought my first attempt at “The Hunt” from Monster Hunters 2 went reasonably well. It wasn’t meant to be a complicated mystery, and I expected the players to figure it out easily, so I knew they were going to be getting the +4 for “guessing correctly” a lot. I don’t have specific plans to use this again in this run, but I wouldn’t have a problem with it. What could have been better, though, was the process of getting the interviews they did. As soon as I got started, I realized I hadn’t properly thought through how the skill rolls would interact with the results. I didn’t mean to break it up into “days” of operation like that. Likewise, I had worked out what clues the interviewees would have available, but I didn’t actually sort out what the PCs would be required to do to get them. Ultimately, it turned out okay, but I think that situation would have benefited from a more “skill challenge”-like structure—a clear “do this, get that” process. I probably needed a couple more backup witnesses, too.

The Skill Challenge in the sewers went much better, mechanically. We’ve been using Skill Challenges (from D&D 4e) in GURPS for a while now, and we’ve gotten fairly proficient at them, much like the GURPS “Chase” mechanic. I’m going to be using these quite a bit throughout the run. I thought my “twist” worked out pretty well: giving them the “obstacle” and letting them sort out the who and how—this may actually be a better method—though I really needed to come up with a few more (logically, you’d need one each for the total of successes and failures, minus one). My mistake there was that, although I had defined consequences for failing the Challenge, I had not fully processed failure of the mission—fortunately, they ended up squeaking by, with maybe a day to spare.

I’m still working on my “Action Challenge System” here and there. For the rats, I used the very-unfinished “Quick Combat” piece. We used this before in our Session Zero, where we revisited the “bridge fight” in Chapter I:V. It is definitely faster—a fight that size would have taken multiple sessions in Tactical Combat. It still needs work, though. The first problem was “Surprise”; I didn’t consider how that would affect the combat until we got to it, and I definitely went about it the wrong way—should have just given the rats a penalty on their first round. The “long term” effects of individual combat maneuvers needs better definition, and I had meant to define a “battle skill” (much like 3e GURPS mass combat). The PCs were all killing a lot more than I had anticipated, even without my forgetting of the Size Modifier, but in retrospect, it was probably “correct”—in a 15 second span, it is feasible they could disable 15 discrete targets. I completely forgot to track the number of neutralized rats as we went, but the PCs took out so many in the first two rounds that it really didn’t matter. If the rats had been able to make any real progress against the PCs I would have been using Fantastic Dungeon Grappling to bring them down, but alas, I didn’t get to see how that would have worked out. There will be other opportunities to try again, though.


  • I’m using “Novigrad” (mostly) from Witcher 3 as a Vancouver for the Capital
  • I pre-rolled (via spreadsheet) the weather according to Dungeon Fantasy 16: Wilderness Adventures; this will be the case throughout the entire campaign
  • I completely missed giving the name of the “siege experts” as Ser Reckett’s Crew
  • I had quite a few “news items” on tap for the town crier, but the PCs decided to move on. I probably should have reminded them they could go back later. But that just means I have more for later.
  • Being a fairy-tale inspired campaign, you will see the Rule of Three a lot
  • The “Jon Thatcher” witness was ripped straight from A Knight’s Tale (as Paul correctly identified)
  • The “Old Mack” witness was “Miracle Max” from The Princess Bride—I really wanted to do more with that one; see “write it down” above
  • The “Procuro Morgeld” witness was the merchant from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice—I also didn’t bring out his details the way I wanted
  • There are more Easter-eggs here that I don’t want to give up just yet…

FGLE Chapter II Introduction

It’s long past time to introduce the next campaign I’ll be running, officially starting next week.

Legends of Generica: Chapter II, “Year One”

Maybe a month after Earthfall wrapped, I decided I needed to clear my head before continuing to work on the next installment, by looking to something else. At some point, Matt Colville talked about his Birthright campaign, where he did some offline realm management and such with his players, using “letters” written back and forth between the PCs and some NPCs (in some cases, without their knowing who were which). I started making some plans to do the same with Generica, but quickly came to realize that, narratively, I couldn’t make that work properly without getting through Chapter II first. By that point, though, it was too late for other campaigns—this one was already stuck in my head. No way to go but forward.

This campaign was supposed to have started just after the third Banestorm run, now two months past. I probably would have introduced it sooner, but scheduling issues kept cropping up, pushing the start out further—for a while, I wasn’t even certain it would happen at all. I hate announcing something and having to constantly correct, so I deferred…a lot.

What’s New?

We’ll have a proper intro this time. And my YouTube GM presentation has (IMHO) greatly improved since Chapter I.

The characters are the same, minus Rayna, but a couple of the players are new, taking over Dustan and Murdok from their former owners/creators. Some of the rules are changing, but these are mostly minor. The most relevant rule change is the dropping of “general purpose” Plot Points entirely in favor of Bennies, which I’ve used in two campaigns now, and found I prefer them.

Chapter I was a linear, introductory adventure, for the most part, by design. I had always intended for the campaign-proper to be an open-world/sandbox in a more West Marches style. At one instance, I was gearing up to run Chapter II, and realized that what I was developing was not what I set out to create, but a standard “linear” run. This caused me to back-burner the campaign at the time. However, since then, I’ve run multiple sandbox campaigns (see Earthfall and Sea Dogs), and decided I wouldn’t mind going back to a linear approach for a while.

What to Expect

As the name suggests, this Chapter will span around a year in-game. I’ve broken it up into what I expect to be one-session “jobs,” not unlike the Shadowrun series we just wrapped was intended to be. I am going for a “full” 12 sessions this time, but depending on how well (or badly) I’ve paced things, it could go longer. I am already expecting a number of breaks in the schedule, which will cause this run to stretch out to mid/late September. Although I feel pretty confident in the overall narrative, I am definitely feeling that pre-campaign “dread” I usually experience. But the show must go on.

Here goes nothing, anyway…

FGLE Chapter I, GM Retrospective

How Did It Go?

Overall, I felt pretty positive about this adventure. I felt comfortable behind the screen, throughout, for the most part. I didn’t have to struggle with the players to get them from Point-A to Point-B. There were some missteps along the way, but I think I learned from them, so the experience wasn’t wasted.

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

My expectation is that it will be quite a while before my (full-length) turn behind the screen will come up again. This campaign might be ideal for a one-shot here and there, though. Additionally, the Core Group is going to be playing a remastered version of Return to the Keep on the Borderlands in Generica setting, which I expect to give me more bits to fill out as it goes along, while I try to spare a brain-cycle or two for the next series.

FGLE Chp I:VI, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream


There wasn’t a lot to accomplish in this session, knowing it was the wind-down for the adventure. It went according to plan, for the most part. Other than the potential duel, I avoided any crunchy encounters or combat; it was mostly just narrative.

  • Bearing the last session in mind, I recognized beforehand that I really “wanted” the PCs to have the conversation with the mercenary commander. It was important exposition about the world, and the political situation. I had to make some adjustments to the plan to keep from painting myself into a corner again. My chief concern was typically-aggressive PCs shooting him in the face before he got to say anything. My saving grace came in the form of his knowing they were coming—both magically, and based on Marthyn’s and other incoming soldiers’ testimonies—which led to the “white flag.” He had some magical defenses in place in case they didn’t play along.
  • In the first session, I lampshaded a potential duel-challenge for the lives of the prisoners through Aidin’s exposition, but when the opportunity presented, I wasn’t going to remind Dustan’s player—it needed to be his idea. I think the exposition was too far back, though, and he had forgotten about it by this point. Plus, there was a bit of confusion regarding the commander’s capabilities based on my description—the player got the impression that the rod he was wearing was a powerful magic item, not just his “focus,” and decided it was best not to cross him. I did a fair amount of spell-related brainstorming for the duel and I didn’t get to use it. It’s too bad, but I can always save that for later.
  • The council meeting in Northelderland was a second chance to get the PCs involved in politics, and set up the potential for a Patron or alternative to the Heroes’ Guild.
  • Since Maykew’s player had purchased “Waygon” (the donkey) as an Ally early in the adventure, I decided those points spent would represent “trade” for its purchase from the innkeep—for example, Trading Points for Cash—but the player’s in-game choice was better, and in-character. The “llama” thing was a hilarious surprise, though—it’ll be good for some laughs in the future.
  • All PCs were granted Rank 1 for free—promoted out of Initiate of the Guild. The Coins they earned will be good for future “favors” by the Guild. The original plan was to also give out a block of general-purpose CPs at the end of the adventure, but I decided, late, to defer those until the beginning of the next adventure.
  • I was concerned the loot take-home would be too little, but it turned out better than I expected. Even so, it will only cover Cost of Living for a month or so (or less, for the higher Status characters). I’m still not certain how best to handle loot without having every bad guy in the realm carry his life savings in a belt-pouch. The rule-of-thumb I remember is that it should generally be enough to continue operating, covering Cost of Living and recovery of expended supplies, until the next outing.
Post-Game Player Debrief

After the adventure was over, I kept everyone online to discuss the eventual continuation of the campaign while I still had their attention.

  • I wanted to shoot for a more “sandbox/hex-crawl” type of campaign, but the group seemed to lean a little less that direction—more “multiple-choice/branching-path” type, instead. Close enough.
  • We’ve got potential recurrences of Aidin, Mallus the Clever, and the court of Northelderland. The players didn’t want to take advantage of the Arl’s offer of employment just yet, though that may be a thing further down the road. He can be expected to request the aid of the Company of the Bere later.
  • The players also weren’t interested in “realm management” for the time being. That’s fine. I’d still like to incorporate that sort of thing eventually—get into more of the Crusader Kings stuff—but it’s not a big deal right now. They need to build up a bit first, anyway.

Side note: This adventure marks the first time in a quarter-century of my GMing that I’ve had six back-to-back sessions with no absences and no breaks. Just lucky, I guess.

See the next blog post for my overall post-adventure thoughts and lessons learned.

FGLE Chp I:V, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

A Cautionary Tale

This session began with a big fight for which I had prepared a great deal…but, it seems, not enough for what the players would end up actually doing.

What I Had Planned

It was to be a tough fight, on the surface. Trained, battle-experienced mercenaries: 12× Halberdiers, 8× Crossbows, 8× Pavisers (shield-bearers). Almost 4× the PCs’ numbers. The bridge was 4yds wide, which let the halberds advance in three ranks of four, with Reach 3. The mercs had Combat Reflexes, ST12 (which was 1pt under Min ST for the halberd, as it turned out, so “chopping” attacks were less accurate), the Teamwork Perk, and Crossbow Finesse (to pull ST14). The PCs would have to close through 3 reach-attacks to get into range to fight back. This is pretty standard fare for late-period Medieval to early-Renaissance armies. Normally they would probably be using pikes here, but this was a mobile, flanking unit—I figured the pikes would be a bit too heavy for that.

The PCs had a number of advantages, though. The mercs were as lightly armored as before, in layered cloth (with plate bascinets). The PCs had magic—I was expecting Dustan to use Windstorm or somesuch to frustrate the formation, which would have been devastating on its own. Plus the PCs had Plot Points, Extra Effort, and plain-old PC ingenuity. I knew in advance that Lëodan would be on the mercs’ side of the river in hiding, to pop up and start shooting them in the backs—the pavisers would fall back to cover the crossbows to the rear, which would engage the hidden archer(s), but that meant they wouldn’t be bothering the melée fighters. I was, frankly, worried the PCs would wipe the floor with them.

Aside from knowing about Lëodan, I had given the players the opportunity to sort out their tactics on the forum during the week. There was talk of gathering some hay-bales or equivalent to hide behind.

What Actually Happened

When the session got under way, it all came unraveled.

The players immediately deviated from the previously-discussed plan. Now there was a new one that involved a barricade made of miscellaneous stuff piled up, including a wagon, in the middle of the bridge. Of course, I had no idea how long it should take to construct such a thing, but it presented a bigger problem: the mercs would see this and, logically, refuse to go near such an obvious trap—in the modern Army, they would probably have called for the engineers to come breach the obstacle. Furthermore, the PCs on the bridge weren’t really hiding, but taking cover, making it also obvious that the obstacle was under guard. I had already established that fording/swimming the river was a no-go, and that going around would involve many hours of travel to rejoin the army. They had little option but to try to tear down the barricade and press through. (Again—how long?) Plus, whatever they did at the bridge would leave them completely vulnerable to a hidden Elvish archer to the rear, who would, Legolas-like, pick them off one-by-one until their morale completely broke. It was check-mate. But this fight was supposed to take up the whole session, beyond which I had minimally prepared. I was left with the choice of the mercs’ behaving illogically and getting massacred in an unnecessarily-messy combat sequence or ending the session several hours short. It seriously threw me off my rhythm—total brain-lock.

After taking an intermission to think it over, I still had no better ideas. I ended up going through the motions in a semi-narrative fashion, and took the mercs through the least-bad option. They attempted to tear down the barricade, got harassed by archer-fire, and eventually retreated after taking too many losses. I had the PCs make some attack rolls and such, but I didn’t bother tracking HP, or movement points, or specific timing. The melée-focused PCs didn’t even get involved. They won the day, though for me, at least, it felt…unearned—very unsatisfying. The players didn’t quite see it as the catastrophe I did—almost always the case. (See below.)

Lessons Learned

It wasn’t all that long after the session had ended that I realized where it had all gone wrong. I wanted that fight to occur. I expected that fight to occur. (You might recall my previous caution against “assumptions.”) As a result, I put a lot of thought into the tactics and conditions, with little thought for the idea that it might not occur at all.. Were it not for that “desire” I would have had an alternative plan ready. I realized this very issue had bitten me multiple times already in this campaign so far, and was about to happen again in the next session.

Lesson: when you review your GMing plans, make note of any time you find yourself “wanting” something to happen and fix it. It’ll be easy to spot: you’ve probably put a disproportionate amount of effort into it. Any time the players say, after the game, that they, “felt like they didn’t have a choice” or “felt railroaded,” it’s because the GM wanted something to happen and forced the situation.

I didn’t have this problem quite so much in the early part of the adventure, because the a-b-c progression was fairly easy to follow. Go there, get info. Go there, get more info. But when the adventure reached the parts where that linear nature gave way, I started running into these little “losses of control”—and I hate losing control. This has been a problem for me since my first GMing attempt. I’ve had to re-learn this lesson over and over, but somehow it always creeps back in. It’s insidious.

I’ve been at this long enough that I, at least, didn’t try to force the direct confrontation. I have used a technique in the past of giving out a Plot Point, XP, or whatever, as a reward for “playing along”—I’ve done this specifically for “total party capture” situations, and it does work, but I don’t think it’s always the best solution. It was also later suggested that I could have started the session in media res, with the fight already in progress, which can also sometimes work, but is also less than ideal. You should never take away player agency.

Much later, it occurred to me that what I should have done was to give the mercs a Tactics roll. If they failed (which is quite possible—Tactics is a Hard skill, and they were of merely average intelligence), they would blunder into the trap. If they really borked the roll, they might even try to climb over the obstacle like complete fools. If were to make this roll known to the players, they could use Plot Points to force that failure. The dice would then have mercifully relieved me of my “logical objection,” though it would certainly have led to quite a mess. I suppose that’s Lesson 2 here: if the problem is that “they wouldn’t do that,” give them a chance to fail.

Ironic Counter-Perspective

As it happens, just a week prior, Ser Kenrick’s player had experienced the same sort of GMing catastrophe, for essentially the same reasons. I was a player in that one. Although I detected that something was a little off, I really didn’t see it as the disaster he declared it to be afterward. After coming to understand my own disaster, I see now that the players had no connection to the behind-the-screen drama besetting me, so of course, they didn’t react the way I did. Some comfort there, at least.

FGLE Chp I:IV, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

Lost in the Woods

GM Confidence: 3/5. It started a bit rough, though it ended well enough. The session reached the point where the adventure was a bit under-cooked, and I felt like it was starting to show.

Lëodan’s Last of the Mohicans Moment

Lëodan needed some proper spotlight time for the adventure. His running off on his own to track the enemy to its lair was the perfect opportunity. But I wanted to give it a little more substance than making a couple of rolls, dropping some clues, and moving on, like I expect one normally would.

  • I worked out a schedule for the day for all parties, including Mother Nature. He started around 02:00, still under a new moon, plus the thick fog. With his Night Vision 5, he wasn’t too bothered about the darkness.
  • I decided to front-load most of the die-rolls and crunchy bits, and describe the results without interruption afterward. I felt like that worked out.
  • I had expected the other PCs to get straight to the inevitable interrogation of their prisoners after last session’s fight. They didn’t (partly due to a misunderstanding about what languages they spoke, but the characters were also very tired). Were it otherwise, I had planned to swap the point-of-view back and forth between Lëodan’s and the interrogators’ matching discoveries. I wonder now if it would have been too confusing.
  • To get the other players involved in this solo outing, I had them come up with some obstacle for Lëodan to overcome as he ran. This was okay in theory, but I wasn’t quite prepared for what they might suggest, and it threw me out of rhythm, so I didn’t keep it up.
  • The rain was the result of a tarot draw: Sun, reversed—a loss of clarity; supported by Eight of Rods/Wands—a sudden onset. I gave him a Weather Sense roll before setting out, which he failed, so he wasn’t able to take any precautions. I figure being soaked like that in the cold should make one susceptible to catching a cold or something, but I didn’t find a rule for it, so I ignored it. I didn’t want to pile on anyway. (I had to research how rain and fog interacts—I don’t think I’ve experienced that personally.)
  • He decided to track at full speed (taking the -5). I realized afterward that I didn’t actually figure in his FP loss for hours of running—but I don’t think that broke anything. The penalty also applied to his Stealth, which affected his quarry’s detection distance.
  • He failed several more rolls in the course of things that caught me off-guard. After all the mods were tallied, he failed the Tracking roll; -10% speed. It failed enough that he missed the misdirection at the stream. (A player came up with the “stream” to jump as an obstacle, so I combined it with the one I already had in mind.) He critically failed his Navigation roll. I decided he would get lost on the way back. But the player decided, late in the process, to start leaving “markers.” This made it impossible (to his thinking) to actually get lost, and I fumbled my explanation of how it didn’t work a bit. In retrospect, (a) I should have made him describe the specific sort of markers he was leaving, and/or (b) say he forgot entirely to leave them, as the manifestation of his critical failure. It worked out okay, in the end, but I’m reminded again of my old saying: don’t ask for a roll if you’re not prepared for it to fail.
  • The encounter with the scouts upon his eventual return to the village was actually coincidental. He just happened to be returning around the time the scouts had been scheduled to be in position. He critically succeeded his Stealth attempts to get closer. According to my pre-calculated spotting distances, he would be on top of them before they could either see or hear him. Some good luck, finally.
In other news…
  • I had planned for the last session to either end sooner or get farther along. Since it did neither, I needed to fill out a bit, lest we start a big battle in the middle of the session and not be able to finish on time. So, I had to pad things out a bit for this one. But we needed to end a bit early for Ronnke’s sake, as he had another game scheduled immediately after, so that helped.
  • “Planning” amongst the PCs, in my gaming experience, is usually a lengthy and involved (and sometimes, tedious) process. I’ve learned to leave the players plenty of room to do it when needed. The players didn’t immediately dive into it like I had expected, and I worried a bit that I wouldn’t be able to stretch things out. It sorted itself out, though.
  • I had a few good opportunities to play with Ser Magnus, one of which Ser Kenrick’s player set up nicely (without realizing).
  • The Lord-Vicar’s arrival was a bit of padding. I had intended to bring him in at the end of the battle or something, or perhaps earlier if they sent for the Arl’s aid. I did not intend to cast him; he was a side character they weren’t expected to interact with much. His new larger role warranted more detail, though—from the players’ reactions to his arrival, I’d say I choose well. He’s gonna be some fun to play.
  • Maykew’s player rolled his second success on his unknown father’s Secret. Hence the witness of Brother Rikall.

I managed to stretch things out just long enough. We ended on time, wrapping up with the arrival of the mercenary army and the reveal of the flanking element the PCs will be fighting next week.

FGLE Chp I:III, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

Contact with the Enemy

GM Confidence: 4.5/5. The adventure is now into less well-defined territory, naturally bringing with it feelings of unpreparedness, but I was satisfied with the overall results.

This session started with a big fight, and I knew it would eat up most of the session—and I was right. Some points-of-interest:

  • I didn’t have any grand tactical plan in mind for the “goblins” here. They were just going to creep in to the town, get bounced along the way, and after putting up a fight, fall back across the bridge. But they couldn’t see in the dark any better than the PCs, and as a result of the PCs’ letting them slip past, they got caught in the middle of the square with “unknown fighters” covering nearly all the possible exits. The PCs made an Intimidate attempt, resulting a fighting retreat on the bandits’ part. There was only one outlet, though, and in the course of trying to reposition themselves, they got caught in the back. They couldn’t make use of their superior numbers at all. It was a legitimate rout. There really wasn’t anything I could do. Well played, PCs.
  • The players finally started using some of their pool of Plot Points; one to give the first bonfire a kick in intensity, fixed a couple of bad rolls, and one for some cinematic behaviors on the part of the Elf.
  • I gave the bandits a “Will to Fight” score of 6. Essentially, that’s the number of turns of “losing” they would endure before deciding it wasn’t worth it anymore—and by losing, I mean taking more overall damage than they dished out. They didn’t make it that far before the matter was determined by the circumstances. None of the PCs were even touched.
  • The imagination of individual participants in an RPG is effectively impossible to “synchronize”—virtually every disagreement I’ve ever witnessed or participated in at the table has either been about rules, or a failure to communicate the terrain/conditions. I try to use images as often as I can, or reference some sort of shared experience—usually movies. In this session, there was some inevitable disagreement regarding who should be able to see/do what in the darkness—my understanding of how dark it was would inevitably differ from others’ and that’s really difficult to communicate without a visual reference. I don’t have a good solution for this just yet, but I continue to seek one. I did, at least, communicate the visibility conditions to the group on the message boards during the week, so it didn’t catch anyone by surprise—I know how irritating it is to discover these things at the last moment.
  • There was a similar dissonance regarding what constitutes an acceptable level of “cinematic behavior”—but without a well-defined “line,” how can one really say when one has crossed it? Also a work-in-progress.
  • Lëodan is a bit of a wild-card; due to the late introduction, I don’t really know the character well enough to predict potential behavior. I figured he’d be running around solo, and though I had in mind his running off immediately into the darkness on his own as a worst-case, I didn’t actually expect him to, and it caught me a little flat-footed. I think it will work out, though.

Gentleham, the NPG

See The Village Model

I’ve been using this model behind-the-scenes for a long time. It’s good for keeping NPC groups organized, and easier to manage than a relationships flowchart (a typical solution for the same thing) in my opinion. I haven’t had a great deal of opportunity to properly test its utility in-game yet, and here is another chance, in a bit less than “thorough” application. Here are some non-spoiler details:


S: Objective; D3; Char: Typical helpless Medieval townies

Tier1 Elements

Master Walder; DR/Bss
Concept: The Coward/Abandoner; hopeless downer

Tier2 Elements

Eldyr Simpelman; CR/Wiz
Tropes: Wasteland Elder
Concept: Tough old bird; seen it all—straight-shooter

Patron Sermyn; DP/Trb
Concept: The Pacifier/Capitulator; town’s peacemaker, total non-violent

So how does it work here? Mr. Walder is the only Tier1, so he’s going to end up as the PCs’ primary point-of-contact for getting things done in the village, and the one they have to convince to play along with their schemes. As “Destructive-Reactive” he’ll be passive, to the point of being a potential problem—PCs will have to encourage him to act. Ptn. Sermyn is “Destructive-Proactive” and the “Village Troublemaker”—his role is pretty easy to imagine. And Eldyr Simpelman is the voice-of-reason to balance Ptn. Sermyn’s shenaniganry—and knowing the players, the most-likely to be actually listened to.

The PCs have interacted with the townies only a little so far. Next session will probably be a better test.

FGLE Chp I:II, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

Cruise Control

GM Confidence: 5/5. In spite of a couple of curve-balls, everything proceeded more-or-less as expected.

A few points worth noting:

  • I made the currently-unknown (to the characters) facts surrounding the familial ties between Rayna, Kenrick and Maykew an official Secret. But while Kenrick and Maykew both have a roll, it’s the father’s Secret they’re checking against, for potential uncovering. For this session, Maykew rolled a success; hence the “Oldtown” revelation.
  • After the near-panic last session surrounding the party’s slower-than-expected progress, and my compensatory timeline adjustments, they pulled another surprise on me. We had already decided during the week to use one of their Preparation Points to bring in a pack animal (which Maykew’s player decided to go with the Ally instead), which would improve the situation. But at game-time, Dustan’s player decided to cast Quick March on everyone, doubling their travel speed—which basically had them moving ~50 miles in an extended day’s travel, which put them back on the original timing and would force me to set the calendar back again. As a result, some of the road content I had planned for that “extra” day got skipped—I didn’t want to shove all of it into the shorter period, lest it drag things out. I’ll just save those for later, maybe.
  • The party arrived at Nobleham after nightfall and were quartered in a castle guest room, but a couple of the PCs decided to wander around and talk to whomever was stirring. I didn’t actually prep for that—not the talking, but the wandering the castle at night part—but it wasn’t a big deal; I just ran with it. However, as it turns out, a side-effect of the Quick March spell is, at the end of the “day,” the Subject(s) immediately take -10 FP and must sleep—they really all should have collapsed as soon as the opportunity presented.
  • I really wanted the duel to be quick—I didn’t want to leave the other players thumb-twiddling for too long—and it worked out pretty well. Rayna got some good spotlight time.
  • In spite of specific attention-drawing in my notes, I still keep forgetting to mention the damned weather (pre-rolled per day from Dungeon Fantasy 16). Plus I always intend to use the lighting function in Fantasy Grounds but keep forgetting, as usual.
  • I found myself at a bit of a disadvantage having to describe the “goblin” visuals in the dark and fog. I really should have had an image to show there. I have one for next time now—problem solved, if a bit late.
  • When I started sorting out the calendar and figuring out the moon phases, I used the real-life current lunar situation on the starting date, and it just so happened to have the raid occur on the new moon—it wasn’t something I specifically planned to make things more difficult, though it certainly accomplishes that.

So, since there isn’t a lot to say about the way the session itself went, here’s a bit of worldbuilding…

The Court of Northelderland

See the wiki.

I had intended from the start to give the players a taste of the political, and route them through a “medieval court” on their way to the mission—I had set aside this court etiquette article years ago for this purpose and hadn’t managed the opportunity to use it yet. Originally it was an optional thing, but I really wanted them to see it, so I withheld some mission details at the start and required them to go to the Arl to get the rest. I had decided a long time ago—before the campaign shifted from the Core Group to Olympus—what sort of fellow the Arl would be, overall. The name, Gudrik: “Gud” is just an alternative spelling of “good” and the “-ric” suffix is Old English for “ruler”—with that clue, you can guess at some of the others’ meanings. The “casting” choice of William Hurt was very deliberate, primarily for his portrayal of Duke Leto in the Dune SyFy series, but I was lucky to find images of his part in The Countess. I had decided the Bredwelle family would be an older line that was becoming endangered.

Nobleham Castle is “played” by Inveraray Castle in Scotland. It was an image I found very early on, and I just kinda liked it, plus it’s fittingly small.

I started with tarot cards to generate the details for each step down a list of the Arl’s relationships: parents, self, siblings, spouse, children. This, as it turns out, has its advantages and disadvantages. A disadvantage was, for example, that I didn’t quite have a method for interpreting the number of children from the card draw, so I had to fudge that a bit. On the advantageous side, some of the results were especially interesting. For example, the “spouse” draw was Star (reversed)—could be interpreted as a hopeless situation, like an illness that won’t pass—leading me to her comatose state, which, due to the magical world, I made a magical illness that couldn’t be easily cured by a random cleric’s hand-wave. This makes his only son more important to him, and gives him a sympathetic motivation beyond his father’s incompetence. I had predetermined he would be having problems that would cause him to go to the Heroes’ Guild for help, but the cards gave me the “why,” and I was pretty happy with the results.

His privy council and vassals, along with some other conditions, were generated through picking an appropriate character from a run of Crusader Kings 2 (which is how later courts would be generated more-or-less in their entirety), with a bit of tweaking to work in the elements I had already generated—like his wife. Some weird contradictions provided some “colorful” characters, and I’m looking forward to further opportunity to show them off later. I’ve gotten into the habit of not “casting” NPCs that aren’t really important, and in this case, only the Arl was cast.

After those, it came down to dealing with the PCs’ eventual interactions with the court. I did a bit of research on the typical daily routine for such a ruler, and worked out a timetable, to determine what he would be in the middle of when they arrived—some times would be more suitable than others to interrupt. Then I took stock of the NPCs present and tried to find places to “show, not tell” their character, with an eye toward humor—some of the characters’ potential conflicts were pretty obvious, which was helpful. I expected the PCs to end up talking to people here and there and picking up some of the lore, and in the session, they did a little—I kinda hoped they would pry a little more, but I expect other opportunities, especially if the players decide to keep him on as a recurring Patron or something like that, which is entirely possible at this point.