Tag Archives: GURPS

FGLE Chp I:VI, GM Debrief

Dénouement

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

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

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

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:

Gentleham

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

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.

FGLE Chp I:I, GM Debrief

Contents May Shift During Takeoff…

GM Confidence: 4/5. I felt pretty good about the overall results, though there was definitely room for improvement.

We got a pretty late start, having to deal with last-minute character updates, first-time-campaign technical problems…nothing unexpected. I started out in media res with a to-the-death PvP melée, a “simulation” intended to get everyone acclimated to their new characters’ abilities (sadly, not everyone realized it was a simulation, so there was some confusion). It served its purpose, I think, but…

The Slap-Fight

Nobody did anything technically wrong here, but two of the characters ended up spending quite a few rounds swinging ineffectively at each other, mostly out of reach of the rest, either not hitting or being successfully defended against—they were a situational match, and would inevitably keep going back and forth like that until someone made a mistake or flubbed a roll. Afterward, it occurred to me that in a situation like that, where no ground is being gained or lost and the scene is threatening to drag on in an un-fun manner, the GM really needs to be ready to step in and shake things up. In our case, I just called off the fight before it was officially over; this was fine for the narrative. In the future, though, I figure I need to give some forethought to how I can speed up such situations; changing the scenery a bit, maybe (adding obstacles, expanding or contracting the boundaries, putting superior weapons within reach, etc.). In a mass-battle, having nearby units get involved is probably sensible. Just a couple of notes about dynamic scenery elements is probably sufficient.

Out of Rhythm

The misunderstanding regarding the simulation already had me a little off-balance. Once the story-proper got moving, I started making little mistakes that compounded the issue.

  • I was reading off some bits of dialogue—which I did not want to be reading in the first place—and to make it worse, stumbling a bit due to some dental work a few days prior
  • The players apparently expected to be given horses (or the equivalent) for the trip, though that was not the case—not sure why I didn’t see that coming, and I wasn’t quite prepared to respond
  • When the Grandmaster of the Guild asked if anyone had any questions about the mission, nobody did…which was weird; I intentionally left out details so they would have questions to ask, and they didn’t. Still not sure what broke down there.
  • The pre-travel prep section kinda fell into a minor bit of disarray. I had planned to use an initiative sequence and tokens on the map to track general positions—not to turn into something “tactical,” just to provide a bit of helpful organization. For whatever reason, I didn’t stick to the plan, and I ended up getting things out of order, and even skipping over the “town crier” bits I wanted to use because I couldn’t quite direct the traffic to it in a sensible manner
  • As we started processing their travel speed and such, I discovered they were going to be much slower than I had anticipated—Encumbrance woes—and that made me panic a little

It just got all jumbled, and if there’s one do-over I would want out of this session, that would be it.

Under Way, Finally

Once they got properly under way, things started to smooth out, but I was still dealing with the much-lower travel speed, which caused further headaches for me. The travel map uses 30-mile hexes as “a typical day’s travel,” but that was no longer accurate, and I couldn’t quite sort out where they would end the day—I have the week to sort that out, but at the time, it added to the overall confusion. As a further consequence, I ended up blanking on some of the road events I had planned.

Lucky Break: Rayna’s player had just added a Quirk-level Nightmares, which fires off only on a Crit Fail—and when they camped for the night, it actually triggered. It was great timing, prompted some in-character development, and will probably be the last time it happens 😛

Overview

All the above issues were pretty minor, and I don’t think the players really picked up on my panic—or they aren’t saying so. All told, it went pretty well for a first session of a new campaign. Lessons were learned, though, and that’s always good:

  1. Stick to the plan
  2. Keep it organized
  3. Go over your notes and find out where you’re making “assumptions” and fix them—think of the worst-case and prepare for it

Introduction to Legends of Generica

Once upon a time, in the land of Clichéa, in the Kingdom of Generica, in the twelfth year of King Jon XVII, the land prospered. It was a period of uneasy peace, ten years since the Late Unpleasantness, and one year since the traitorous Luzar Drakeburne campaigned to usurp the Generic crown and was defeated. The king faced troubles from all sides; vassals plotting to take his throne, or gain their own; raiders terrorizing outlying farms; and neighboring kings awaiting opportunity to strike.

But far to the east, dark clouds gathered over Firemount: after a hundred years of silence, the Overlord of Nefaria recently sent his armies forth from the Black Tower and seized the neighboring Kingdom of Poorland. There is no doubt he next will march on Generica, his ancient enemy, and trod under foot any who stand in his path.

Meanwhile, a group of young, upstart adventurers of the Heroes’ Guild has formed a company of brothers-at-arms called The Company of the Bere (“bear,” not “beer”), and is about to be sent on their first mission…

History

In 2006, one of the Core Group GMs (Zorgon) decided to run a quasi-continuation of another GM’s D&D campaign, in a generic (that is, not our usual Greyhawk) setting, which was jokingly dubbed Forgotten GreyLance (Greyhawk + Forgotten Realms + DragonLance). I think the “Generica” concept was first referenced at that time. In 2011, he made another use of the setting for an entirely new campaign, this time adding “Eberron” to the name: Forgotten GreyLancErron.

In 2012/2013 the Core Group had different membership, half of which were relative noobs to gaming in general, and had not GMed before. We decided to run a “GM Club” including all current members, a GMing round-robin of three to four session apiece, each stint ending in a cliffhanger where the next GM would pick up. We used a setting based on the old FGLE plus some new concepts, called Forgotten GreyLancErron – Heroes of Generica, the building of which was shared amongst all the GMs. The round-robin was quite a success, and some of the GM-noobs went on to GM their own campaigns. It was this version that began the use of TV Tropes as a design feature.

In 2015, I started working on a new campaign for the Core Group based on FGLE which I was referring to as Legends of Generica. I took over the FGLE setting and started reworking it, intending to run the campaign in D&D 3.5 (would have been my first D&D campaign); the reworked setting was the first use of the Core Group Wiki. Along with TV Tropes, it would feature the heavy influence of the computer game, Crusader Kings 2, as a “realm management” concept. The campaign didn’t see production, but I kept working on it anyway, intending to get to it eventually, in one form or another.

Now in 2017, an opportunity has arisen to run Legends, instead, in GURPS Dungeon Fantasy for the Olympus Group, though there is talk of some Core Group overlap with a different D&D campaign that may use the same setting.

Campaign Overview

See Campaign Info.

(For the record, this campaign is not an official part of the Daniverse-proper.)

I’m setting the tone of the campaign on the “silly-side of average,” like The Princess Bride or Stardust. I’m keeping the setting quasi-realistic, to the degree that I can, but allowing the basic cinematic abilities, influenced to some degree by TV Tropes. The original D&D version would have started at 1st Level; this being GURPS, that means 150 points at the start—definitely still “green”—with their focus on eventual fame-&-fortune. The adventures themselves will be intentionally clichéd and simple, which should telegraph events for the properly genre-savvy—knowing it’s coming should be part of the fun. For the future, I’d like to get into some small-time realm-management, and of course, the campaign will undoubtedly end up featuring a long journey to take some McGuffin to Nefaria to destroy it before the Enemy can use it. As a side note: due to the current circumstances at the Olympus Group, this campaign will likely be my first to be live-streamed and recorded for YouTube, though I intend to keep the usual post-session records as well, probably on the Olympus blog.

Should be a fun ride…

S³M Chapter One GM Retrospective

Overall GM Confidence: (starting) 3, (ending) 5 of 5.

I have to say, I think it all went really well, in spite of some (mostly behind-the-scenes) shaky bits here and there. The players all seemed to be generally engaged and responsive throughout. The characters were all interesting in their own way, and meshed well together, and gave me plenty of basic hooks to work with. My mechanical experiments got enough actual-play that I can use to make later refinements.

Some points-of-interest, in no particular order:

  • Actually, this marks the first ever campaign I’ve run to see a direct continuation into a subsequent run. A couple have continued with an entirely different set of players/characters in some form or another; and the Replacement Miners might count as well, though it had a more-or-less “hard” ending before moving on to the Sabo Affair with new crewmembers and ship.
  • As the first campaign of mine to benefit from a proper wiki site, I have to say that I found it really helpful, as GM. What I don’t know is how helpful it was to the players.
  • My current Plot Points/advancement system got a good workout this time. It was well-received, as far as I know; players didn’t seem to mind the lack of per-session awards or improvement, and they did get a mid-chapter opportunity to upgrade a bit. Plot Points didn’t get used as much as I had intended/expected; I will be overhauling the system based on that experience. Relationships finally got its first real test, and although it did see some use, it wasn’t as central as I had hoped—I have some refinements in mind. Same for the Paragon/Renegade mechanic. Mild success overall, with some useful lessons learned that should make it shine next time.
  • My long hours of work on the ship model paid off in being able to easily visualize ship-board situations. I’m definitely glad I did that. Aside from some polish on the ship, I need to work on Tamborro Station for next time, since it’s a central part of the story, and a number of situations that developed during the campaign could certainly have benefited from better definition.
  • My GMing strategy of late of only working on a given session in the week prior turned out to be more of a hindrance than I liked this time around—too many of those weeks found me lacking the necessary motivation, focus or inspiration to get it done right, resulting in a few sessions of rather low confidence at the start. Next time, I intend to put together a more solid long-term plan before the run starts. The “Save the Station” theme didn’t quite get the attention it probably deserved; that will be remedied next time as well.
  • Be it luck or design, the players didn’t push me too hard, nor did they truly surprise or stump me. Good and bad. What I had wanted from the (very) beginning was a Traveller-like sandbox, but the lack of established setting details makes that especially difficult, when the players don’t know where to go next without my telling them. This isn’t necessarily “bad,” it just means running a different kind of campaign. Before the campaign officially started, I had the players “create” a number of locations to visit during the campaign; I just need to build the pathways to those locations and let them follow—they (will) already know these locations are important.
  • The only time I really got “stumped” as GM was at the end, when I decided it was time to wrap things up. I really wanted a “satisfying,” climactic wrap-up to the chapter but I needed to compress things a lot, and I wasn’t sure how to do it. Even at the eleventh-hour, I didn’t have a solution I was satisfied with, and I ended up winging it, with only a couple of basic points to hit. In play, my “A > B > C > D” became more of an “A > E > G > D” progression—a bit out of order, but I had enough spare-parts to make it work, and in the end, they arrived where and how I intended, and it all worked out—and rather nicely, to my surprise and delight.
  • I suppose my biggest disappointment, overall, was not being able to do more with Zennith, as an “inventor.” The player didn’t really press, but there were bits here and there where it could have been highlighted, and I don’t think I did a very good job. Better next time.
  • Rigil thankfully spared me the extra headache of doing all the write-ups myself; I just handled the formatting and graphics. I still intend to go back through them and add links to the wiki, and “explain” more for those not in-the-know.
  • I really wanted to be able to run this “indefinitely,” in theory; I wanted to beat my 12-session longest run (Outlanders), at least. Ultimately, I suppose I could have gone longer, but I was being pulled in different directions by many other projects and found myself really needing to put this one down, so I wrapped it up a bit earlier than I originally wanted. Given the usual length of campaign runs in this group, and the number of GMs/campaigns in the current queue, it’s going to be quite a while before my turn comes back around, but it will, and I have no doubts at this point that there will be a Chapter Two (barring unforeseen changes to the group).

To be continued… (For real this time. 😛 )

S3M 1×10: “Come Together”

Dramatis Personæ

At the Bad Omen, Tulk momentarily looks around, hoping to catch sight of Carter, then decides to consult the internal security cameras where he quickly confirms that his captive did in fact escape while stark naked … and with his hands still taped together. Tulk quickly gets dressed and is just about to depart the ship in an attempt to hunt down Carter when the rest of the crew returns, some at least slightly intoxicated. Zennith immediately begins complaining about the damage done to the cargo door, but they set this aside for the moment to concentrate on pursuit. Rather than splitting up, the crew stay together and, after briefly asking a couple of questions of locals and earning strange, uncomfortable looks in return, Bella openly asks someone about this wherein she learns that the gunfight from earlier has hit the local web-net where the faces of both AJ and Tulk are quite clear. Tulk suggests they hit Ella Guthrie’s bar on the presumption that Carter went there.

And it appears that he did. Outside of that bar are numerous police vehicles and the crew arrive just in time to see Carter being led out in handcuffs. Once the LEOs have withdrawn, Tulk suggests they speak to Ms. Guthrie and leads them in. When Guthrie approaches, she recognizes Bella and clearly has something of a history with her – and did AJ imagine the flat once-over the woman gave him upon realizing Bella was with him? Probably. It’s been a long day already. – but she’s far more pissed off that the crew has apparently fucked up her connection to the fucking stash by letting Carter get fucking apprehended, goddamit. She goes on for a time like this, using a copious amount of profanity, and tells Tulk that their “finder’s fee” for the stash will be not being black-listed on Laughing-Buddha. The crew exits.

While en route back to the Omen, Zennith start looking into hacking the police frequency to possibly locate the cops who left with Carter but realize that this will take some time. Rather than doing that, the crew (including Bella who thinks this is quite exciting!) suit up and take the coffin back to Carter’s habitation module with the intent of looking through his stuff in a likely futile attempt to figure out where the Hobbs stash is. There they find a single police “cruiser” parked outside and AJ suggests that Zennith rejigger the coffin’s LADAR to act like a laser microphone which we can ping the hab-module to listen in on what is said inside. What the crew hears are the sounds of fisticuffs – clearly, Carter is being roughed up and the fact that it is taking place way out here instead of at a precinct indicates that these LEOs are definitely acting off book. With Zennith quickly rigging up a jammer, the crew exits the coffin, leaving Bella behind to monitor comms.

With Tulk pausing to blast the police cruiser to disable it, Zennith hacks the alarm and AJ, thinking tactically, orders the crew to polarize their visors to ensure anonymity. They breach the hab-module with AJ in the front because of his space armor and find four “off-duty” LEOs roughing up Carter who is tied to a chair. Calista takes out one of the targets straight away and then Tulk does the same while AJ takes the extra second to aim … though it doesn’t matter as his target dives out of the way as Calista drops a second man; AJ’s target, upon seeing his three buddies down in mere seconds, wisely throws aside his weapon and surrenders. JoJo enters and gives the man a strong sedative that knocks him out, then does first aid on the men the crew shot to ensure none of them will bleed out. They then extract Carter … after he … passes the key that will allow them access to Cooper Hobb’s stash.


Jake Dorne
AKA “Carter”

According to Carter, the stash is about ten minutes away in the rim of a crater at the foot of Mt. Petrovka, at the “Left Eye of Buddha,” and he insists that, technically he hasn’t promised Guthrie anything, but AJ doesn’t quite buy this. They settle down near the appropriate location and exit the Coffin where they discover (with a bit of digging) a buried outpost that appears to be a subterranean habitation complex. Carter admits that he does not know the actual code so Tulk hacks into it. The crew pass through the airlock and enter the seriously, seriously old complex that has been abanadoned for 150 to 200 years. Inside a storage room, they find many hermetically sealed crates with really old Scotch which was 150 years old when it was sealed up, as well as crates full of metal slugs that were clearly unmade coins for counterfeiting cash two hundred years ago. Far more importantly, though, they find numerous hermetically sealed tubes containing works of art, including Cavallari’s original (probably) Sunrise; Carter seizes that one and doesn’t let it go.

Pressing on, the crew enter a control room where a virtual image of Hobbs appears, congratulates them for finding his stash, then gives them 30 minutes until it goes boom. It does not even occur to the crew to try to stop this countdown, something that will irritate them to no end later, and they quickly retrace their steps, gather up all of the paintings, then heft as many of the crates – scotch and slugs – as they can to exit.

Outside, they discover that Boss Winfrey has arrived along with his goons and is quite pleased that the crew appears to have done a lot of the heavy lifting. It seems rather obvious that he intends to just gun the crew down – which is potentially bad for him since AJ is recording this through his implant and is half a moment away from doing a wide-band upload – when Ella Guthrie arrives with her goons and an equally valid (it seems) legal claim. Tulk briefly interjects here and manages to divert Guthrie and Winfrey to start focusing more on which of them has the more legal claim. While this tense standoff continues, the crew inch away and toward the coffin; to the various thugs, they look like people more intent on getting out of the potential line of fire than trying to escape so no one stops them. This gives the crew the chance to pile into the coffin and bug out. As they do, Carter’s conscience gets the best of him and he contacts Guthrie to warn her of the impending explosion. When she flees, this clues in Winfrey who follows suit and soon after, Cooper Hobbs’ stash goes boom.

After a moment of consideration, Tulk reaches out to Guthrie and offers to use her as an intermediary to sell all of the loots. At first, she is utterly furious – and her profanity shows it! – but she calms down and agrees to his offer when Tulk points out that she’s still going to make a considerable amount of money on this. Carter is initially unexcited about returning to Tambo to his father but Tulk, knowing how smooth an operator Bella is, asks her to convince him … and she does with a few smiles and comments. Besides, the crew did save his life earlier.

The crew spends a little time off-loading captured firearms onto the gray market here as well as purchasing some medical drugs for JoJo, then loads up the cargo that Tulk obtained for them and departs Laughing Buddha. Upon arrival at Tambo, Tulk escorts Carter – who has left the Cavaleri Sunrise behind – to Walt … after having provided Carter with some knock-out drugs that he can use to make good his escape. Walt is pleased and declares that his agreement with Tulk is complete – the slate is clean. And then, a little later, Carter returns to the dockhouse, retrieves his painting and heads out to start arranging for a museum to buy it.

For the crew, it has been a pretty productive day…


Player Notes:

  • The firefight was over without the PCs taking any fire. Ambushes really suck for the poor bastard getting ambushed.
  • AJ totally kept a painting. I expect that, since he’s Unlucky, this is going to come back and bite him in the ass … or since Bella is “Trouble on Two Legs,” he’ll end up having to use it to get her out of a jam. If neither of those happen, I expect he’ll eventually start feeling a bit guilty and start looking into returning it to its proper owner.
  • Tulk discussed the Crew getting a share of whatever profits Carter gets for returning that painting and I’m thinking that needs to be an adventure itself: take him out-system to somewhere else (maybe the USA capital?) and deal with the inevitable pirates sent after the PCs by Boss Winfrey.

S3M 1×09: “Wayward Son”

Dramatis Personæ

It is around 22:00 local with the Coffin en route back to the Omen. At Tulk’s request, AJ pressurizes the craft so that Tulk can chat with Carter regarding the guys who were chasing him. Carter demands to know who the Crew are as they clearly aren’t employees of “Boss” Winfrey; this gives Tulk an angle and he gets confirmation that the men pursuing Carter are cops. Carter grudgingly reveals that he is seeking the lost stash of Cooper Hobbs, a post-Exodus villain of some notoriety who was rumored to have used Laughing Buddha as a hiding spot for his captured loots, including a stolen painting, the original Cavallari Sunrise which is potentially worth millions. During this interrogation, Tulk gets a ping from his data mining program which is set to alert him when any of his previous aliases are used, but he pretends not to notice.


Jake Dorne
AKA “Carter”

They dock with the Omen and, while AJ runs through the power down sequence, Tulk and JoJo escort Carter to the hold. Upon recognizing his father’s company trade-dress on the rented habitation module, Carter tries to bolt but is wrestled into submission and punched. Realizing that they need a more long-term solution, Tulk sends JoJo to retrieve his medical gear so he can set up a drip to keep Carter asleep. This gives Carter an opportunity and he makes a run for it. After dodging out of the way of Tulk’s pistol whip to the face, Carter scrambles up the stairs into the mid-level, but Calista, who has been alerted to the noise, launches herself down from the tower, slamming both feet squarely into Carter’s back and sending him stumbling. JoJo, who has by now retrieved his needler, springs forward and jams it into Carter’s neck, injecting a strong sedative that knocks their kidnap job out. AJ is just now exiting the Coffin and shakes his head. Tulk strip Carter out of his smart vacc suit and his clothes, then scans him to ensure that there weren’t any surprises, and lets JoJo set up a sedative drip. They relocate the unconscious Carter to a bed where the doctor can monitor him.

While this is going on, AJ chats with Calista about the local rules regarding duels and then asks her if she’s capable and willing to stand in as his second before retiring to his cabin where he sleeps surprisingly well. Meanwhile, Calista retreats to her cabin where she wakes up Zennith to let him know about the duel; Zennith starts thinking about making a directed sound weapon to distract AJ’s foe. Tulk retires himself and reviews his mail, learning that it is a leaked intra-agency vmail stating that they have a new image of the “second man” in the IBM embezzlement case with a BOLO order. The leak comes from FreeSpace, a hacker organization like WikiLeaks or Anonymous. Tulk then spends several hours looking for cargo; he finds two lots, but only wins one. Meanwhile, JoJo watches over their patient, has another hamburger, and gets some sleep.

AJ is up early the following day and secrets himself in the cockpit to play the violin in order to center himself. A little bit before the time of the duel, the Crew (minus Tulk, who remains behind on the Omen) head out to the park. There is a small courtyard within the park that, if there wasn’t potential ensuing bloodshed, might actually be peaceful. Exactly on time, Bale’s entourage arrives and it is a considerable one, with Boellan, Tohre-Chi, and others. Bella is in their midst and appears unscathed – she offers AJ a hesitant smile – but far more curious to AJ is how none of Bale’s entourage are willing to look AJ in the eyes.

‘I’m pleased that you decided to show up after all,’ Bale tells AJ who replies stiffly that he said he would before shifting his full attention to Bella and asking if she is okay. Bale then gives a speech, something he appears pretty good at doing, about them being present to see that honor is satisfied. Bella is given an opportunity to give AJ one last cuddle; she whispers for AJ to not kill Bale which momentarily causes AJ to give her a confused look before shoving that aside and focus instead on Bale. The two men square off and AJ, falling back on his Taareh training, removes his shirt to reveal the extensive scarring he received at the hands of Terran Federal Republic interrogators. Bale is momentarily surprised, then acknowledges ‘Taareh style’ and does the same, though he is nowhere near as scarred. The two men meet in the center of the courtyard with their swords and the duel begins.

They circle one another and then Bale lunges forward first. AJ draws first blood with a lucky strike – he parries a thrust, then counters with a slash that carves a bloody furrow across the pirate’s chest and causes him to go to a knee in agonized shock. The entourage audibly gasp in surprise at this and AJ steps forward to threaten with his cutlass. ‘Are we done?’ he asks, but Bale responds with a gruff, ‘I’m not quite done yet.’ AJ, being an honorable sort, lets the man stand and recover his weapon. They clash again and AJ parries, sideslips and thrusts. Only after the duel is complete does AJ realizes that Bale intentionally fumbled his parry. Bale goes down, this time unable to continue, and AJ calls out for a medic – JoJo springs forward to do first aid. AJ then turns to Bale’s second, Atilios, and repeats his previous question: ‘Are we done here?’ The big Praxian nods as a barely conscious Bale weakly declares that honor is satisfied before he is hurried off to a hospital. Bella throws herself into AJ’s arms gleefully and, when asks what that was about, she whispers that they’ll discuss it later, after they celebrate.

Back at the Omen, Tulk is finally asleep when he is buzzed awake due to an alarm advising him that someone is at the door. He activates the vid and recognizes “Boss” Winfrey, along with multiple beefy-looking cops. Winfrey informs Tulk that he is present to serve a warrant to search the ship for a fugitive. As a delaying tactic, Tulk puts the boss on hold while he calls the captain (who informs Tulk that he’s gathering the rest of the crew); when he gets back to Winfrey, the man identifies Tulk by name. Thinking quickly, Tulk declares that there is a ramp malfunction that he’s looking into; he then rushes to where Carter is sedated, jams a stimulant into the unconscious man to wake him. Once Carter is conscious, the two manage to get him into the stealth compartment. When Tulk finally does open the ramp to allow Winfrey and the cops entrance, he realizes that his attempts to make the malfunction look real has actually damaged the ramp.

The warrant looks valid and the trail that Winfrey’s boys followed is logical – LB’s flight control logged the Coffin although AJ’s flight path was sufficiently difficult to follow that the LEOs aren’t entirely positive that it was the Coffin – and Tulk accompanies them as they search through the ship. As they do so, Tulk plays up the mercenary card and learns that Winfrey is on the hunt for Carter for unspecified reasons; fortunately, the LEOs did not bring a bio-sniffer and do not find anything. They depart, irritated, and Tulk waits long enough for them to get clear before returning to the habitation module where he finds the door open. Carter is gone.

Tulk rushes to the ramp and looks across the concourse but finds no sign of Carter even though the man was stark naked. ‘Well, shit,’ Tulk murmurs.


Player Notes:

  • GM rambled on in the beginning about what exactly is “illegal” in the S3M-universe … and we never actually resolved this.
  • We’ve run into this issue before where one PC monopolizes the limelight due to the ongoing narrative; in a game I ran relatively recently, I’ve also had a duel with just one PC active. I do wish there was some way to better incorporate the other players into a scenario like this.
  • AJ’s victory against Bale was kind of tainted with the pirate sort of throwing the fight at the end, but prior to that, AJ was actually winning so it counts. With Giger’s approval, I went ahead and picked up off-setting Reputations, a +1 with low-lifes & pirate wannabes as “Badass Pirate Duelist” and a -1 with LEOs as a vigilante pirate hunter. I sort of envision this reputation as being more trouble as it is worth, sort of like a ‘Jim Holden’ from The Expanse kind of rep or a badass gunslinger in the 1800s where idiots just seem intent on testing him.
  • It was certainly Unlucky of Tulk to be on the ship by himself when Boss Winfrey & Co. showed up. And, as a fan of “Justified,” I totally envisioned that show with this ending.