Friday, January 24, 2014

New Games in New Year

Beginning of the year has ended up being a wild card series of new games and campaign starts. Between people having time off for the holidays and various campaigns having ended, I wasn’t sure what kind of gaming I’d get in. As it turned out, some pretty awesome and new stuff. Here’s part one.

Fate Core: We’d been scheduled for our Legend of the Five Rings campaign on Sunday, but ended up two players short. These two have historically been the ones who miss, so some time ago the remaining three had built a “side-story” campaign. We'd used Microscope to create a city, which you can see the details on here. Of course this time I’d prepped for the L5R game since one of the no-shows hadn’t given notice. So I had to quickly come up with a story for the group to play out.

I’m decent at improvising, but usually I have played and done some thinking ahead of time to make things easier. I know the world, have run other stories there, or have PCs with strong identities who can drive the action. For Grey Reign, we’ve only done three sessions prior to this and there’s a significant gap of months between sessions. I asked for fifteen minutes to prep and left the room. Upstairs I used the random adventure detail generator from Shadows Over Vathak to put together a set of ideas, including aspects for NPCs. A concept came to me and I shaped the material to it. We ended up with an investigation game, with the players hired to find out why an Opera Diva had rejected her wealthy sugar-daddy patron. That led to tales of cancelled concerts, other vanished artists, weakened magical wards, a secret library vault, and a mad scientist who implanted a supernatural songbird in his client’s throat. I was pretty happy with the session and we wrapped up later than usual.

Kingdom: The next day I had some people over and we tried out a five player session of Kingdom. Microscope’s been one of the most useful and fun gaming tools we’ve added, so I trusted Ben Robbins new product would be interesting. I read through the rules a couple of times and wrote a post with some first thoughts about how it might be used with other games. Kingdom again plays with time and scale, but offers a tighter focus on a community.

For our session we had five players, one more than the game itself recommends for the first time. We set things up and selected the story of a spaceliner which has suffered catastrophic failure. Now the community has to figure out how to survive, contact rescue, and negotiate the tensions between guests and crew. We selected a “dry satire” tone, but ended up a little more dark by the conclusion. The game takes some getting used to. You have characters and identities, unlike Microscope. Play centers around “Crossroads” which are the challenges facing the community. We only ended up getting through one and a half (we reduced the checkboxes on the second crossroads). I think future plays will give me a better idea of how to balance time and move things when I’m teaching. I think Nick said it best when he suggested Kingdom feels more like Fiasco or Durance than it does like Microscope. But Sherri pointed out that it feels much more positive and exploratory than those. I’m looking forward to playing this some more.

Superhero/OCI: This was a strange gaming evening. We'd wrapped up the Last Fleet campaign at the beginning of December. When we talked about what we wanted to do next- one player wanted some time off over the holidays, so we waited until this week to come back together. I figured he wouldn't be returning for some time (maybe not until summer or later) so I figured I'd try a one-shot or two and then talk with the group about what we wanted to play in the meantime. I emailed and said we’d do a one-shot, assuming this player wasn’t going to be there. So I spent several hours organizing and figuring out what good one-shot games I had.
However, the time-off player said he'd actually be at the session. So I dropped that and replanned the session. I'd promised that player a particular kind of superhero campaign several years ago, so I set to work on that. I went back to my notes, sketched some campaign outlines, and did some thinking. Then I put together a 'prologue' one-shot which would set up some ideas for the campaign. I spent time designing pre-mades for M&M and got all of my stuff organized and ready. I was pretty happy with how the session would establish the campaign’s ideas and themes. 

GM's know what I'm about to say. The player arrived, but only for the one-shot...he wouldn't be returning for a campaign. And given that I'd built the campaign based on a request he'd made, I kind of didn't want to run it. And given that I'd set up the one-shot to really launch into that campaign, I didn't want to do that. It ended up one of those cases where poor communication really goofed things up. I should have emailed him to confirm/check his commitments. It didn't even occur to me and it should have. So anyway that's a bunch of hours of work kind of wasted. If I'd known it would be just the one shot, I would have finished getting one of the other games together. The M&M work isn't exactly wasted, but that's time I could have spent on any number of other projects this week. Lesson (I hope) learned.

On the plus side, the group talked about what we wanted to do next and we'll probably move forward onto another campaign structure I've been wanting to do again for a few years now. Ocean City Interface revolves around multiple game worlds, with a central reality. It borrows a little from Amber, a little from Unknown Armies, and a little from Feng Shui. Each player will get to select a world of their own from a list. I posted that list last week.

For the first session I started the group in the mercenary fantasy portal (notes on that here). That allowed me to show off how Action Cards will work for this campaign. I made some small tweaks to the system, in particular how we structure skills. They created a team of experts leading a company which had recently suffered a schism. The players came up with interesting characters right out of the gate (Deadly Elven Sniper, Gruff Dwarven Bashkar, Misplaced Elven Medic, Cheaty Half-Elf Spellsword, Enthusiastic Human Sergeant, and Focused Fae-Blooded Fallen Noble). I set up the basic mission, did a few checks and got them to the site of their first major operation. Because we got started late and had character creation, we didn’t get very far. I plan to add some other aspects to the PCs next time (ala Dresden Files) and introduce the advancement rules.

First Wave Series Three: We’ve been planning to do a third and final chapter of my Roll20 M&M campaign. The setting has a hodge-podge of elements from existing universes thrown into a blender. I’ve leaned heavily on reworkings of DC and Marvel plots mixed in with concepts like Ken Hite’s Adventures into Darkness. We’ve done two successful “series” of this campaign for a total of about 30 sessions. This one will be the “cosmic” arc ala the big event books. I sent out a teaser post to the players on New Year’s. For this arc we have the good fortune to have Gene Ha joining us. He played a few sessions in the first arc, with his take on Elongated Man, “Stretch” Jackson. Gene’s a busy guy, so I hope to set things up so he can drop in and out as he needs to.

For the first session I wanted to get everyone back into the groove of their characters. They’re at Power Level 15- having started at PL 8. That makes them pretty hefty; I think the 13 was the highest PL I ran with M&M in previous campaigns. Some of the players wrote up news blurbs describing what they’d done in between arcs (I'll post those up; they're pretty great).

I had them go over and expand on those ideas and got feedback from the other players. Then I jumped straight into a combat. Once again I did a callback to City of Heroes. Everyone had originally played that MMORPG together and that’s how the online play night had started. They fought the Carnival of Shadows from that game. Since we use abstracted zones, I can use more interesting maps. I found a semi-3d amusement park diagram for the fight locale. The session went well- I still need to get back in the groove and a little faster at resolution. The session ended with a teaser bit, as a female version of Nightcrawler fell out of the sky carrying a cryptic warning

NEXT TIME: Goblins, French Resistance, Destroyed Villages, and the Spider Clan.