Saturday, April 18, 2009

Game Thinking: Libri Vidicos Session

Not a day of getting a great deal done-- I actually passed on boardgaming this evening, which much like skipping cake, should be symptomatic of a serious problem. Actually I just banged my elbow really well at some point which made me generally grumpy throughout the day.

We had an interesting session last night for Libri Vidicos for a couple of reasons. The session before I'd had a pretty massive fight-- combined with some fairly intense action sequences before that. I'd ratched up the tension pretty high and when they teleported back to school, they found it in flames-- which is where I ended.

I had a slight dilemma ahead of me there-- on the one hand, I could have moved a few things into place and headed for a big confrontation with one of the bad guys. It would have been the School Year capper-- with a session of two afterwards of picking up the pieces and essentially ending volume two. It had a certain appeal for a couple of reasons. Narratively, we would have moved from a nigh tension level to an even higher tension level-- the group came into this week's session knowing only something awful had happened. We've also been playing Year Two for about a year real time. So there's a nice parallel there. Finally on a more prosaic note, I'm almost to the end of my notebook. There would have been a certain poetry to doing that and starting a new notebook for Year Three.

On the other hand, we still had a number of outstanding plot points and character development issues outstanding. Kenny still has some social conflicts to resolve, Steve and Sherri have tutorial sessions with new instructors I haven't had a chance to flesh out yet, Shari's in charge of the school play, Scott has a plan he hasn't yet put into operation to take revenge on his rival, and we've only lightly touched on Wickets and Imps and the progress of Dave's team. Beyond that, I had a number of more subtle plot details I hadn't gotten full use out of yet. I don't want to say exactly what, but if I didn't get to them they might just feel like odd dangling threads later.

So I decided to move forward, but not jump to the conclusion for the year. I went through a couple of different approaches to how I wanted to handle the scene I'd set up. When I'd described the burning school at the end of the last session, I had some ideas. However, when I actually went to sketch out what I wanted to do, nothing really worked. I went through about three drafts, rejecting each in turn. Finally I kind of knew what I wanted to get across-- essentially what the purpose of the scene would be, but I ended up stuck on how to present it. When Gene has commented on scripts for me, he invariably points out places where I could do more visually-- use the medium itself to show what's going on, rather than relying on dialogue or having additional scenes. With a little over an hour to go before the game, it finally hit me how I could do something like that with the scene I wanted at the table.

One of the open questions of the game has been the purpose of Libri Vidicos, the history of it, and its relation to the other schools like it. They'd met figures last year who seemed to be the founders of the five houses of the school. However, that didn't make sense, given the other parts of the history they knew. Essentially, if Libri Vidicos had been built by the Makistani Empire, why were a foreigner, a Dwarf and some kind of Elf, founders of the houses? So I wanted to give them a brief vision of a major historical event that would answer some of those questions. However, that raised the obvious danger of the info dump scene. I didn't want the players interacting directly with the vision of the past, as that would had created additional problems (and given away a couple of things). But there are few more awful moments at the table then having to watch the GM have an extended conversation between multiple NPCs with the players just sitting there. Like having to watch a one-man show involving a debate between the fathers of the Reformation.

So, following Gene's advice, moved to a different context, I wrote up the conversation the group would see as a brief (two-page) play. I gave three of the player's copies and assigned them roles. It went over pretty well-- creating multiple voices and involving the table in the process. It was also different enough from anything else that it forced people to pay attention. One thing I would do a little differently next time would be to either reduce the odd names and terms or else spell them out phonetically. I'd also proof-read more carefully. But I was pretty please by the whole thing and everyone seemed to enjoy it. We're hitting a few of the historical/past game references buried here that I want to skim a little over-- they should serve as color but not inform the plot as otherwise it can get too convoluted.

I've seen similar at table techniques work before, but nothing exactly like what I did. One of my fondest memories was a trick Paul used in his Wheel of Time campaign. He had a separate session for each player before the campaign really began. In it, the other players played npcs from that character's life-- and each session would cover a major changing point for that PC before he or she actually met up with the group. IT worked beautifully on a number of levels. First, it spotlighted everyone's characters and gave each player a chance to reveal some of their dark backstory. Second, it invested the other players in that person's PC. By giving them, indirectly, a hand in that character's past, it gave them ownership. Third, Paul laid out plot points and connections which would surface later in the game.

I've done similar things at the table-- a couple of times, I've prepped the group by giving them some notes on a scene and preparing a signal ahead of time. Then when one player suddenly has a flashback, the other players jump into the new characters and start playing. Done well, this can have a great disorienting feeling. John Chenoweth had a character with a mysterious past he didn't remember and a couple of times I used this trick to reveal details about it.

Music Notes
The new Decemberists album is a Changeling Rock-Opera. It is like they said, “hey Lowell, we'd like to make an album that will appeal only to you.” If you like alt-Indie music, then you might like The Hazards of Love. Maybe. I love, love, love it. I like the new Neko case Album, The Middle Cyclone, but not as much as her last album. Sherri says that it is resolving for her.

Brian Tyler did the soundtrack for Constantine, Fraility, and Bangkok Dangerous. The first I quite liked, the others I just enjoyed. However, I was skeptical when I heard that he'd been given the job on the new Dragonball live-action movie. Shudder. He rises above the material and absolutely hits a home-run for action epic. Also The Venture Brothers soundtrack by J.G. Thirwell is worth a listen for its masterful strangeness. It will be going into the Changeling campaign mix.

I got a Facebook account because Gene has one and posted a couple of preview images from a little thing he and I have done. Of course it says something that I haven't really bothered to put a profile together.

Tomorrow the last of the Vampire PM. This week will either be light or perhaps some notes as I get ready for the first session of the new Sunday campaign.