Sunday, February 8, 2009

Campaign Updates 2/8/09

Some quick notes on recent rpg sessions--

In our Hunter game recently, Will managed to off a couple of very nice things. First, he was in a tough position as a GM, with the group having split in two for some time. Worse-- it was one of those situations where one player goes off by themselves from the rest of the group. That can be OK sometimes, but when you're in the middle of critical material or plot development-- it can slow things down, having to deal with two separate and at least relatively parallel event chains. I will point out here that the jackass who went off by themselves was me. Will handled it during the session it occur by breaking the time parallels-- the joke being that it became like a Lost episode (“Three hours earlier...”, “Six hours later”). He managed and balanced the two halves of that well without worrying that one side was getting ahead of the other.

The main party heading into the resolution of a major plot thread-- instead of shoe-horning my character back into the action, he simply left me where I was (bleeding to death in a snowbank out in the country) and moved on. He gave me a major NPC we'd run into before to manage during the three sessions we worked through the sub-plot. He teased, but revealed nothing about what was in fact happening with my character. This last session, we discovered I'd survived, but had been taken by one of the major villain groups of the campaign. It was here that Will pulled off something that I've seen done in movies, but I don't think ever at the table. He kept up the pace of the session with fairly quick switches between my experience among the baddies and the group's experience in trying to figure out where I was. In both scenes he put some pressure on-- for me that the bad guys would stop being civil about getting info from me, and for the group that I was clearly in imminent danger. The quick cuts made everything feel like we were running against the clock.

At a certain point, I was able to get a phone call out to the group to inform the where I was. That was the first point at which we established a point of parallel time between the two halves. Now began to cut back and forth between me being forced to open a magic item for the bad guys and the group rushing to my rescue. They reached the estate where I was and Will cut back to me. I heard a commotion upstairs and decided to make a break for it-- attacking my nearby captor. The attack went well, and I was feeling good when I actually heard what the sound was upstairs. It wasn't the group come to rescue me, but instead another group who were probably there to kill me. He cuts back to the main group and describes them arriving and seeing the fight begin. It was a great fake-out and he really managed to make my heart sink when I realized it could be a while before any rescue arrived and I'd have to go through two groups of antagonists. Nicely done-- it was a good use to restricted information at the table being played as if it was open information. I jumped to a conclusion about the situation and got hosed for it.

The other thing Will did well was making the opposition difficult and scary without being GM Fiat ass-kickers. He was able to demonstrate their power by having them tear into another semi-bad guy group. That made us acutely aware of the damage they could do. At the same time he didn't use these NPCs as a way to do damage to the bad guys and we just had to do mop-up. Instead we had a difficult fight we had to pull all out tricks out for. He'd built some baddies who, quite reasonably, could stand up to some of the tricks we'd been using to take out other opponents. It forced us to both panic and try to come up with some new options.

In the Changeling campaign last time we made some interesting forward progress. The group finally had a chance to see some of the existing political structures and meet some of the other Changelings of the city. We'd also set up last time that the group wanted to have a gathering with some of the student NPCs they'd met. It meant a somewhat odd structure to the game-- essentially two major scenes, both with a large cast of NPCs in play and mostly about talking and interacting. I thought about glossing over the student scene given that. However, doing that would have meant either reducing the importance of that or else bumping it back (i.e. that they'd get together the following week which would have been a couple of sessions later). I decided I didn't like either of those options. Instead I tried to budget my time for that first student scene more tightly-- trying to hit the highpoints, illustrate one or two dynamics from each NPC, and then move on. I'm glad I did that as it help cement those characters a little, gave us some strong moments, and provide some contrast in control and attitudes between this situation and the later meeting with the Changelings.

Doing large party/gathering scene can be difficult. It can mean a lot of talking head bits from too many characters for the players to keep track of. I tried to focus that by having the group witness a political event at the Court (essentially they were going to meet the members of one of the two Changeling Courts in the city). That allowed me to describe the NPCs there, show some of their attitudes, and make a few narrative points. They then had some opportunities for questions and introductions. It also allowed me to make a connection to the strange fight they'd had last session-- the petitioner before the Court seemed to be referring to some of the things they'd seen, but none of the Court people actually believed him. We ended with the group leaving after meeting the Court. That allowed me this week to handle some interactions at the gathering via email. Most of the players picked an NPC to meet and talk with. Since most of those players then posted that back and forth on the wiki, everyone got to see some more details about the NPCs who were mentioned in passing. I was pretty pleased by how that turned out, with some optional email supplementing the at table narrative. Give that we do slightly shorter sessions for that game, I think small in-between stories or email exchanges becomes an effective and efficient way to handle this.

Tomorrow I'll talk about the status quo shifts in the Libri Vidicos game from Friday and about how the short session with Kali went today.