Monday, March 23, 2009

Campaign Updates 3/24/09

Quick Overview of the last couple weeks of role-play gaming:

Changeling
We had a good session from my perspective. We dealt with some of the aftermath of the previous session, did a few quick interactions with NPCs and situations, and then introduced the second of the two major Changeling Courts. We also tied in some of the threads begun by the PCs in the weeks between the two games. Several players had begun email conversations and interactions with one another. That material is dynamite-- even the tense exchanges managed to illuminate some of the most interesting aspects of the characters. One of the sequences went in an unexpected direction and began to delve more deeply into the backstory of Black Annie. I had the happy opportunity to bring out some of the details I'd been sitting on-- some that I'd hinted at in an earlier dream sequence.

I've said it before, but I'll say it again-- this group is dynamite for the genre and game we're playing. I have to play catch up with their creativity on and off the table. Like the Libri Vidicos game, the players enjoy exploring the genre and their characters-- interacting with one another and with the NPCs. I'm a little stunned at how good a group of players I have between the two campaigns. They had an interesting meeting with the head of the Court of Gardens, who came at them in a very different way than the first Court had. The players also had a good sense of where they wanted to go next-- what they wanted to look into for the future.

I also had one of those moments in the game where I had to fight my GM instincts. I'd put a slightly obscure and bizarre clue on the table for one of the players. My intent had been for it to be simple foreshadowing. However, the player pulled the right card for the right time and approached it creatively. My instinct, since this wasn't a thread I'd intended to have forefront for some time, was to shut it down. I managed to stop myself from doing that and instead reordered in my mind the priorities of some things. I'm trying to get better about that-- beyond just saying yes to things at the table, but also more broadly allowing the players to really set their own course in the campaign, even when it isn't something I expected to develop early.

Rob's Game
We had an interesting session to Rob's short run Steampunk-Fantasy campaign. He delved into each player's background and origin at this session. He used the device of a dark woods that evokes and preys upon the spirits of travelers. Each of us had a vision of something out of our past, or at least something with a connection to it. Some more explicitly came from our own lives and others felt more fantastic. It presented a good opportunity to show who we are to the other players. It also set us up for the ultimate showdown I expect we'll have next session. We have to bump that one because of a concert, but I'm hoping we'll be able to reschedule it pretty close to the original date so we don't have to wait two extra weeks for the big finish.

Will's Hunter Campaign
Last session we tied together many of the existing threads and pieces of information-- at least what we had-- in conversation between the various PCs. We ended up discarding our original plans of tackling a probable threat inside the city, and instead decided to move to deal with the big bad. So this session saw us heading of for The End of the World-- which I believe was in Mentone, IN. We had a nice set of challenges leading up-- including having our abilities negated by certain magics in the area. We also ran across a couple of our favorite NPCs on the way up there. We ended up splitting up for a bit with the two pairs dealing with various crises and trying to get into a coordinated position to stop the madness. We had a big rig fight and pulling one of the questionably not evil NPCs off of a torture device after fighting off demonic torturers who looked like Shari's character. Then more craziness, more NPCs, big fight, greater and increasing complications.

There was a brief shining moment when I thought my character might get out of this alive-- that I could rescue one of the NPCs and manage to escape. But then things got more complicated and crazy and I had to go out like the Martyr Archetype I was playing to make sure the job got finished. I was happy with my character's arc-- I would have preferred living, but if I had to die, I want to have that death scene mean that I went out doing the right thing and doing the right thing. I think that's so important-- character death should be a moment when you give player's a chance to triumph (or at least show off) in the face of failure.

Libri Vidicos
I came into this week's session with a couple of interesting narrative constraints. We had two guest players, Dusty and Gene. I'd already made up characters for them some time back-- complete with tailored decks for the Action Cards system. I'd actually introduced Dusty's character, Samiir Tracy, some time back so that we'd have a character he'd have to play if he came by. That character's a descendant of one of his earlier characters from another campaign. On the one hand we have a long-running campaign with many NPCs and plot details running. The campaign itself breaks into several chapters-- ala Harry Potter-- with “Books” serving as years of the game (well, school terms in any case). We're far into Year Two and a number of the plots have deepened and developed. So I had to balance that out-- giving a session which could stand alone and allow players to sit in and get what was going on. On the other hand, I didn't want it to be entirely separate from the rest of the campaign. I wanted there so be some opportunities for social interaction, discovery and planning. Those would have to not necessarily predicated on previous knowledge, but instead would work in and of themselves but be illuminated further by previous events. I also had a set of outstanding plot points that I wanted to draw together so I spent a great deal of time writing and figuring out how I could make those fit.

Obviously the adventure would have to take place off-campus. I found an old sheet of train drawings from the Call of Cthuhu module Terror on the Orient Express. I scanned those and spent about an hour fixing and blowing them up to work at a figure scale. I'd begin in classic fashion-- throwing them into conflict early, then giving a breather where they could assess the situation and plan, then some time exploring and infiltrating, and finally a larger fight. I had some other props I prepared as well that we didn't get to. I enjoyed the session immensely. Dusty and Gene got into the spirit of their characters right away. Some important meta-information given by the Headmaster laid the groundwork for later ideas. The combats went well and required the players to split to handle things. Everyone got a chance to use their particular skills (I especially liked the coincidence of Sokka, who is taking a Marksmanship class, getting one of the two Volters they found). We had good planning, good spy-work and nice piecing of things together. We also ended at a good place-- with several reveals that changed up the nature of the situation. We got about 2/3rds of the way through what I'd laid out and thankfully Dave saved me from having to run until 3am. I owe Dave an enormous debt of gratitude. Gene also sketched everyone's characters-- an incredibly nice gesture that I don't think I can say enough about-- suffice to say they're great.

Kudos:
Valmont: “No, I don't know anyone better suited for doing stealth and infiltration than you Samiir...by all means...”
Cerise: For her “Fear Doorway” and managing to launch the Ice Mage off the train even while heavily wounded.
Sokka: For his panicked gunfire and his elementalist approach to the the unstable Arcane Engine bombs.
Samiir: For his winning smile and lucky draw “Crawling from the Wreckage” pitching of the Duelist off the train car.
Sergei: For the brilliant John Woo/Pulp Fiction moment taking out the hired gun coming out of the lavatory-- especially as the group had just begun to realize the atrocities these guys had commited.
Leather: For his own reaction to the atrocities and his losing it while fighting one of the minions-- coupled with his own shame at having reverted to his primal instincts.
Beletan: For having a terrible night of pulls-- he still managed to provide the needed support in the form of Figment spells and a mastery of the magics through his Illusion Art.
Lucy: For her interactions and calming of Leather and her practicality in the face of impending doom.

FWAP
We had the first session of the all female players supers game in some time. The group is technically called Vigil, but they have an acronym name that they've played up and themedia has run with. I think I managed to establish the context of the game pretty well-- despite the gap between sessions. We had some accounting to do at the beginning of the session, since only recently I'd moved the characters over to MnM 2e. I had a stand-alone adventure planned, but one which tied in to some of the established NPCs. We also had the introduction of Heather's character to the team-- whose name I kept messing up (and not deliberately like I do with Scott's character's names...). We had a good session-- with some fun social interaction, a first fight with some hilarious collateral damage to the SuperTarget they fought in, and a good end-battle with a mixed bag of super-villains. The running joke of denting their car created a nice parallel between the scenes. They also made me laugh until I started crying-- I can usually bull through those moments and playing things straight, but every once in a while they get me and I absolutely break character. Good fun.

Kudos
Cinder: Flaming carts aside, the quick switch for the captured bride was priceless.
Sighing Sting: Asking for Hot Tea at the Dairy Queen and playing Bad Cop/Worse Cop with the Occultist shopowner.
Vinca: For her plan to create an allergen cloud on top of Cinder's new Smoke power so as to absolutely disable everyone...likely including the group.
Sylph: For essentially one-shot K.O.ing the Juggernaut character with her critical Suffocate attack. Also for the “Woo-Woo” sound her powers make (they don't actually, she just makes that sound when she activates them).
Mujimahime: For her Inspire feat and for just telling everyone that Sighing Sting's “The New Girl” even though no one actually asked her.

All-Flesh Space
For the evening I'd originally thought about just getting people together for a board game. But I decided I wanted to do an rpg one-shot since Gene and Dusty didn't get as much of a chance to play those. At first I thought I wanted to do something more experimental and “LARPy”. Then I started to think more conventionally-- I read a review of a game called InTERRORgation, an indie pdf rpg. I picked it up-- the basic premise of the game is that the players are all in a group debriefing, tale-telling session or interrogation (like The Usual Suspects or Rashomon). The GM sets the plot and a player can kind of describe what happened by responding to the Questioner/GM. They describe a little and then the players flashback and play out the scene. However, other players had work to do a scene over-- saying “that's not how it happened.” It is an interesting concept, but the more I read, the more gamey the actual system ended up. I began thinking about another version which would simply use the interrogation as a framing device. I spent about half a day working with that in mind before finally deciding that wouldn't cut it.

I knew by then I wanted to do an indirect sequel to the All-Flesh Must Be Eaten one-shot I'd done at a number of cons (I think I've run it about eight times). I had characters with background memos done up and I added another one to accommodate the seven people we'd have. I'd recently read a review for a DVD called Alien Raiders and I liked some of those ideas. I worked up a complicated story of Mi-Go aliens versus Cultists of the Yellow Sign. I had some Venture Brothers in-jokes, a ton of red herrings, and a lot of material done up. However, once I got to the table I ended up discarding the complexity of two battling factions with the players caught in the middle and went with a single threat and a second group outside that who would precipitate the action. Essentially the structure of the game would be: Set Up-- Scene Building-- Some PC Interaction-- Inciting Incident That Creates Chaos-- Run for Your Lives.

The group was great-- everyone made their characters their own. I wanted to have that feeling of being caught in the middle of something weird and complicated without having any real understanding of it-- which I think came across. I'll admit I threw a lot of Lovecraftian stuff in there for Will. Everyone played well with one another and we had three spectacular and genre appropriate death scenes at the table. I'm torn as to which one I loved the most. Great game, and dynamite fun for me to run-- always a pleasure, as with all of these games, to run for good players.

A special note has to be made here of Brian's drinking all of the cream...the moment that sent everything into total and utter chaos. Brilliant.

Kudos
Gene-- for his cheers, his facial tics and his “I can't believe you wasted the last bullet...”
Heather-- for her substance indulgence and for her “Stop Talking New Guy!!!”
Dusty-- for breaking his golf club at the end and for his death line “I'll Read the Book!!!”
Will-- for not pointing fingers at anyone (*kof* Heather *kof*) and for his bludgeoning of Dusty to death
Brian-- for his “I'm way ahead of you” line and for his having the final line of the film. (The End...?)
Shari-- for one of the greatest and most appropriate death scenes I've ever seen in a game-- escaping back away from the cultists only to realize the monster's right behind her.
Sherri-- for planning appropriate to her character and for screaming “OH HOLY F***” at the top of her lungs.

That was a good week+.