Tag Archives: GMing

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.

Miscellaneous

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.

Miscellaneous

  • 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.

Miscellaneous

  • 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…

Earthfall Season 1, GM Retrospective

Overall, I feel pretty positive about this run. The timing was less than optimal, and I felt like I was having to scramble the whole time to keep up. By the end of it, I was definitely ready to stop, despite player encouragement to continue. But there was also a good “energy” about it, and it definitely seemed like the players were having fun with it, as was I.

Lessons Learned

The Setting

Firstly, the setting for this campaign poses a problem I didn’t have with the campaign’s “spiritual predecessor,” that being the lack of a proper “mass die-off” of the human population. That meant whatever structures the PCs come across are likely to still be occupied by their owners, and operational to some degree. Not only could they not loot everything in sight, but I had to deal with more NPC encounters (mitigated somewhat by Wyoming’s low population). Secondly, unlike the typical zombiepocalypse, an organized “military invasion” doesn’t justify random alien encounters—realistically, they need to come from somewhere specific, for a specific purpose. Since the PCs followed a mostly-predictable path, I could usually work this out…usually.

Preparation, Again

The combination of requirements and limitations that come with online gaming and the more action-focused story demanded more of me than I was ready for. I had plenty to do for the first couple of sessions, but I didn’t have quite enough to work with midway through to keep things going smoothly. But this isn’t unusual. I was more satisfied with the handful of events where I more-or-less directly ripped off elements from movies. They felt more fleshed out and natural than my improvisations.

Early in the run, events ran on a prearranged timeline, which worked pretty well. After that schedule ran out, I started reflexively “steering” the PCs toward things I had prepared. It was late in the run when I realized I was doing this, so I overcorrected, resulting in my “horrible mistake,” which kinda ruined the ending—hoisted on my own petard.

Sandbox, Again

I had an easier time with the sandbox elements for this campaign’s predecessor, for some reason. I think the zombiepocalypse makes potential PC actions more straightforward, reduces the encounter population (as mentioned above), and makes encounters like “bandits” more believable. In the former case, the Monster Lake ranch would certainly have been unoccupied and free for looting, but in this case, I was lucky it was the weekend when they got there, or I would have had a bunch of NPCs to deal with—which I would have had to improvise on-the-spot, since I hadn’t expected that stop. I was a little surprised that having to cobble together a battle map from Google Earth in the middle of the game was not as bad as I expected, but it’s still a shame I can’t use it directly.

This campaign felt a little “patchy” to me; I didn’t have a clear sense of what was going on in the world. The population as a whole ended up standing around like a CRPG NPC waiting to be clicked to deliver their scripted dialogue. I should have had a basic idea of what the US military is doing, for one, and a disaster/evacuation plan for the civilians for another, at least. But now I have a better idea how the PCs will behave and interact, so I should be better prepared next time. For example, I clearly need a “Point of Contact” NPC for each settlement they pass through, assuming they keep to their Postman role. Also, as things progress, the quintessential “random encounters” may start to make more sense. I’m still using tarot to determine the situation in places the PCs visit, but I’ve been toying with having the players draw those cards during the game—might feel less scripted, but that’s a lot of pantsing during the game. I haven’t decided yet.

I tried to focus on keeping things energetic and progressing forward—I would say this was mostly successful, but there is definitely room for improvement. I need to keep Matt Colville’s words in mind: “This is boring. Someone needs to die!”

Other Points

  • For the aliens, I’ve been converting existing stats or coming up with new ones as they come up—not to mention redesigning the visuals—but that does mean they’ll be there for next time.
  • There were a number of points where I made some comment regarding the in-game situation that would have been better delivered by an NPC—I forgot about that lesson from Sea Dogs.
  • I never did succeed at getting James, Jr. in any serious danger to be rescued from, though I did come close once or twice. Gotta do better.
  • I skimped on the “Wilderness Travel” stuff from DF16 for the most part, mostly because I knew, in-game, it was going to be short-term. This may become more important as it progresses, but I will probably keep it simple anyway—at least, unless I can find a way to make it more entertaining. Plus having a functional truck means travel times are usually measured in hours, not days. I need to focus on the “montage” style delivery.
  • I need to do some more work on the Action Challenge System (ACS), and try to come up with some good scenarios to test it with next time. I’m fairly excited about its potential.
  • Post-session, we agreed that the next run will feature cooperation with X-Com, but not full-on employment by them

Next Time

There will be one. Soonish. The plan, as discussed immediately after the last session, is to try to make a quick turn-around. I do want to get in a full 12-session run next time. Of course, that means I really need to start prepping now

Earthfall, S1E8, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 3.25/5. When I started, I probably would have given it a “4.5” but when it was over, I’d definitely give it a “2”—so I took the average. 😛 This is not how I wanted to end the run. More on that, below.

The Ups…

Finally, at the end of the run, I managed to work in a “proper” tactical combat. I was happy with how it went, overall. It was difficult, but not too much so. No PCs were injured, though much of that is owed to the enemy’s use of non-lethal munitions, to sometimes-hilarious results. I also finally got to use the Fantastic Dungeon Grappling “Control Points,” which worked out nicely. It did go a little longer than I originally intended, but at the time, I considered that to be to my benefit. So, I skipped the additional action scene I had planned in Buffalo so we could move on to the session’s climax.

…And the Downs

I had planned to work in a “visit” by the Project Genesis “Entity,” but I had problems working out the particulars. I had a great idea at the last minute before the game, of the Devil’s Tower dream, which also let me work in a little Close Encounters joke. I just thought I would throw that scene out there, and the PCs would go on to complete their Cheyenne Mountain objective and look into this new thing later. It was mere seconds after I pulled the trigger on that event that I realized what a disastrously horrible, ruinous mistake I had just made.

For the noob GMs out there, remember this: the PCs will almost always obey a command from an in-game “authority” as if it came from the GM himself. In fact, they may drop what they’re doing right now entirely to do so. In this case, I had actually not considered at all that they might decide to do a 180°, go back the way they came, and straight on to Devil’s Tower.

I locked up. I had a bunch of “dynamic” stuff planned for Casper (moved from Denver, due to the previous change of plans). I could have relocated (again) along the new route, but it wouldn’t make in-game sense there, and I had just corrected myself away from that “make stuff happen” GM mindset that leads to railroading the PCs, so I couldn’t justify the move. If I had known this would happen, I might not have skipped the additional Buffalo scene, and it wouldn’t have felt quite so empty. I spent the rest of the session on the back foot, vamping to fill the time and trying to figure out how to work in the X-Com introduction under completely new circumstances. And cursing a lot.

It was such a stupid mistake, and I should have known better. Thankfully, the players aren’t usually aware when this happens unless I tell them. They seem to have enjoyed the ending anyway, regardless of the fact that it was so much less than I had intended. Not how I wanted to end the run.

Earthfall, S1E7, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 4.5/5. Nevermind the last-minute scramble to assemble the necessary materials, I felt pretty good about this one, both before and after. I might have given it a “5” had it not been for a handful of minor errors, none of which would have amounted to much on their own.

Close Encounter

I finally got a proper Tactical Combat in, even if it wasn’t very long. I was a little concerned about overpowering the PCs, but it worked out.

Bob Lazar’s “sports model” disc seats three, so I had one Grey/Sectoid flying the ship, and two on the ground fetching the MacGuffin from the crash. They weren’t expecting company and weren’t kitted out for a fight, so they had to use their psionics. Arming them with beam-weapons would have weighted the fight too heavily in their favor (plus, the surviving PCs would undoubtedly loot those beam weapons, a bit too early to my liking)—even so, it still might have gone badly for the PCs if not for their numbers. GURPS has stats for Greys in both After the End 2 and Monster Hunters 5, but they aren’t exactly the same; I also referred to Psionic Powers for some details. The result: By game-time, I confused myself about what mechanics to use, and it got a little sloppy behind-the-screen. I really should have nailed down those particulars before the game.

I intended for the aliens to go after James, Jr. but, unsurprisingly, they didn’t get that far—I haven’t properly “endangered” the kid yet. I expected Woola to be (finally!) sicced on mind-controlled Robert; I didn’t expect Robert to get accidentally bullet-riddled in the process. RIP 😛

Action Challenge System™ (Alpha test), Part II

I did the first test of the ACS in Session 2, with the “war zone” scenario. The “disaster survival” scenario is another primary reason for its existence, and I had been looking for an opportunity to use it. I like how it turned out, overall—I think it gave the feel I was looking for. But it definitely still needs some work; I had to fudge quite a bit on-the-fly. Almost immediately after the session, I realized the contest should have been an “attack/defense” thing, rather than the binary “succeed/fail” thing that it was. More lessons learned now will mean a better result when it’s finished.

Derailings

There were several places in this session where the players messed up my intended sequence of events.

  • I intended for the storm to hit some time after they passed Ten Sleep; I didn’t expect them to decide to dig-in there immediately, which meant I had to fire it off early, or they would have just turtles, and it would have been boring.
  • I expected the PCs to avoid Denver, but I didn’t expect them to avoid it quite so far as they are currently planning, spoiling some of my future plans, unless I find a way to compensate.
  • I expected the PCs would overnight at Damien’s house in Buffalo, and I was forced to scramble to refactor his ex-wife’s arrival when they decided to hit the road early.

All of the players’ decisions here were perfectly reasonable, and I should have thought of it myself. I realize afterward this means I’m probably railroading too much, trying to force events to occur. Earlier in the campaign, events were on a schedule and would happen when they happened, whether the PCs were there or not. That was better, even if it screwed with my intended narrative.

Earthfall, S1E6, GM Debrief

Session Recap; 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.