FGLE Chp II:V, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 4.5/5. Overall, this session went really smoothly, and I had a lot of fun with it. I should be really happy with how it turned out, but a few issues continue to (unnecessarily) nag me.

What Went Right

This was the second session assisted by one of the players from our Friday face-to-face game, Shelley. But it was the first I had approached her with, as it revolved around the character, Rayna Starkweather, which she had originally created (for a separate D&D campaign). Aside from help with the overall writing/plotting, she wrote Rayna’s letter to Ser Kenrick, worked out Rayna’s responses to some situations that would come up, and assisted in the development of the village and its residents. I took a little extra effort with the details in this one because I might possibly run a Generica campaign, or some variation, for the other group, centered around Guffin Hall. Meanwhile, Shelley has continued to assist with the remainder of the campaign run, and I’ve no doubt it is better off as a result.

Once again, I managed to pace the session out quite well, ending only a little short of the four-hour mark. It seems I have properly grasped how much we can get done in one session. But the next couple of sessions will test me, as there will be a lot to pack in.

I tried something a little different this time with regard to the Travel Montage. I had gotten into the habit of late, due to running more sandbox-like campaigns, of breaking up travel into one-day segments (or whatever). But, more recently, I had determined that treating the whole thing as a single “event” might be more efficient, and a bit more reminiscent of how one typically describes a long trip to one’s friends—better for when the daily travel grind isn’t the focus of the campaign. Therefore, in this session, I only had the PCs make one set of rolls for the overall trip, applying the speed bonus to the last leg (where it mattered), and making some assumptions about the rest. This is in addition to the other adjustments I’ve made to the mechanics regarding the effects of those rolls—I’ve back-seated a lot of the math, as unnecessary to the storytelling. Post-session assessment: I think it worked, but I may need to figure out a way to get some of the “color” back into the early part(s) of the trip. It was certainly faster, though. But this is worth a blog post of its own, or will be by the end of this run.

Dustan’s Duty fired for this session. My implementation went through a few rewrites before I arrived at the “big book” idea. The book’s dimensions were based on the “largest surviving medieval book,” the Codex Gigas (AKA The Devil’s Bible). I’m sure the players suspected some shenaniganry, but I was glad nobody suspected (or seemed to) an “oversized” tome. I didn’t think about them getting a cart, though…

I was really happy with the “romance cards.” I had decided that I wanted to let the secret of Kenrick’s/Maykew’s parentage out during this run, and this was an ideal opportunity to do so, but I didn’t have a solid idea how to deliver. It was late in the week when I thought of the cards, and it was just too good an idea not to find a way to make it work. Between sessions, it will be pretty much confirmed for Maykew that Lord Randyl was his father, and although Ser Kenrick won’t investigate further, he “knows.” Then there’s the “bookend” of Ser Kenrick visiting the grave of his mother, and seeing his father’s grave in the same session. It plays well with the “family” theme.

What Went Wrong

Once again, an excessively busy work-week left me a little high-and-dry, come game-time.

The Big Issue with this session: In spite of my success in the previous session, I completely failed the “Show, Not Tell” rule in this one. I realized my mistake as it was happening, but it was too late to fix it. Specifically, I failed by making a show of describing the (admittedly, perhaps, named a little too on-the-nose) Dodgyville as a “hive of scum and villainy,” rather than finding a way to demonstrate that characteristic through interaction. To be fair, I’m not exactly sure how I could have done that, but I should have tried to find a way, even though that description would evoke exactly the visualization I wanted. It was sloppy. It bugs me more than it should, I know.

The next biggest issue: I somehow missed that I hadn’t finished detailing the final battle dialogues or post-battle wrap-up, including the “catch phrase” (the “great fame and wealth unimaginable” bit), until I was executing that part of the game. I had to improv a lot of that, and I hate doing that, especially when that little twitch of panic sets in as I realize my error. Sloppy again. I intended to start improving my dénouements, and this sort of thing doesn’t help.

There were a few other even-more-minor errors…I’d probably call them “normal”:

  • I’ve found a tendency of mine, that I will sometimes go into some unnecessary exposition, especially when it comes to the history of a place (Bonnyfield, in this instance), that should either be “demonstrated” (see “Show, Not Tell” above) or left to the wiki.
  • There was a near-disaster when the PCs started talking about skipping picking up “the book” until the return-trip—I had planned for that eventuality, should they do so when they met with the scrivener, but not before they even entered the area!
  • The fact that I completely missed the first enemy turn in the final combat was unique to Fantasy Grounds, and a result of having Sorcil in the Combat Tracker, “skipped,” during the first fight, and forgetting to undo that later—just a SNAFU.

FGLE Chp II:IV, GM Debrief

Session Recap; Stream

GM confidence: 5/5. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the session “perfect,” but I also couldn’t (realistically) expect one to go much better, IMO.

What Went Right

  • I’ve been trying to do a little more “Show, Not Tell” for some time now—to the extent that one can in a TTRPG—by working bits of lore into conversations with NPCs, or through their actions. The “news reading” is a prime place for it, and I took advantage of a random kingdom event to tell about the Sentinels. I also feel like I did a decent job of “showing” NPCs’ traits and positions through action/conversation here. Obviously, I want to find more opportunities for this.
  • I went through the characters’ inventories before the game and discovered they actually didn’t have much that could be pick-pocketed. A couple of potions was the best I could do.
  • The fight in the slum apartment, as mentioned on the stream more than once, has to be one of the strangest combats I’ve ever experienced—but it was certainly entertaining. It was definitely not planned that way; “emergent storytelling” in evidence.
  • I came up with the “Lock and Key” concept during the Sea Dogs run. Although I have been using it here and there since then, this was the first time it came to the direct forefront—no idea why it only happened now. I’ll probably expand on that in its own blog post at some point, but the short version here is: the “lock” would have been if the PCs tried to appeal to their authority with the Gambees, in which case they would have taken a -4 to Influence, and the “key” was offering to take the arrows so the Gambees’ men don’t have to (also flattering Vigo’s intellect), in which case they got a +4. Kenrick’s player just happened to hit the right note.
  • Due to a busy work-week, I had to scramble a bit to get prepared. One of the problem-areas was the inclusion of the “black-hooded man” at the end. I needed to be able to deliver the catch-phrase and take off running without being immediately prevented, and it wasn’t till the last minute that it occurred to me to put him on the rooftop, which was perfect (and appropriate). Once again, Maykew’s player surprised me with (the same) spell; I hadn’t considered that at all—but it worked out, since I really wanted him to get caught. I think I would have rather gotten a proper Chase (Action 2) out of it, though. Next time.

What Went (Almost) Wrong

I went through some effort to get to the first fight at the right time, knowing how long these things usually take, so I could get the session done on time. I succeeded—maybe a little too much so. When the fight went rather more quickly than I expected, I was definitely worried the session was going to end up short, enough that I was considering turning the “Red Rondel” into a “real” fight. But I managed to allow the player discussions to drag just enough to negate the need.

A much-smaller issue: I adjusted the “bridges” news item really late before the game, with the “bleeps,” but at the time, I didn’t properly process how to actually read it aloud, resulting in some clumsiness with the delivery.

Miscellaneous

  • The “Halfling Mafia” is an old joke dating back to the origins of the Generica D&D campaigns in our Friday group, but had not seen production until this session. I had been looking forward to this day. The name, Gambee, is a mix of “Gamgee” from Lord of the Rings and the historical “Gambino,” suggesting a bit of a “Sicilian” flavor.
  • “Red Rondel” is a reference to the “Red Circle” club from John Wick
  • Garrett the Locksmith is an old D&D character of mine going way back to 2nd edition, and was, himself, a ripoff of the the protagonist from Thief: The Dark Project. I do miss playing that character…

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…

FGLE Chapter II Introduction

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

Legends of Generica: Chapter II, “Year One”

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

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

What’s New?

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

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

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

What to Expect

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

Here goes nothing, anyway…

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.