Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bringing My "A" Game

I've been doing a lot of thinking about the differences between my two one-shots - that is, why was one of them an A Game, and one a B-Minus Game?

Wade (as usual) does an excellent job of breaking it down for us.

I agree with his points, and have a few more to add. Here is what I'll be doing differently in future one-shots:

Setting Familiarity
Wade is right: The FUDGE Deryni game flopped in part because the players didn't know the setting and there was no one-sentence description to summarize it easily.

Even though Cthulhutech was an unfamiliar setting, it drew on a number of familiar elements. I was able to easily describe it: "It's like a cross between Neon Genesis: Evangelion and Cyberpunk, with Cthulhu added."

In the future, I will try to run games that are either familiar to the players or for which it is easy to create said familiarity with relatively few brush strokes.

For FUDGE, I did all the character generation according to what I thought the players wanted. I didn't pay much attention to what I needed to move the story along. I also had the characters 100% complete before the players ever saw them. I failed to provide any hints as to character personality.

For Cthulhutech, I made more characters than players, and allowed them to choose which character they wanted as their own. As I had four players, I made six characters and made sure that each critical skill was covered by at least three characters. I also left the characters partially incomplete, allowing the players to customize slightly. Part of the Framewerk system involves giving each character a character virtue and a character flaw, so they had an idea of who these collections of numbers were, too.

In the future, I'll do what I did with Cthulhutech. I know which players will gravitate to which character type, so I can make sure that the players will like who they wind up with. I'll also make sure there are some personality hints somewhere on the page. And I'll leave a few things unfinished so that the players have some personal touches added to their characters.

My weakness is endings. It always has been. They completed the major objectives in the FUDGE game, but I left too many hooks dangling - and it's a genre that doesn't seem to like dangling hooks. The "climax" was also unsatisfying - most players like a good solid combat at some point, and I did my best to dodge it for FUDGE.

I left plots hanging in Cthulhutech, too, but they were plots that felt like they were supposed to dangle. Sure, they caught the bad guy, but the mastermind got away. It's like that mid-point on TV Crime Dramas, when you know who the real bad guy is, but you don't have enough proof to get him. There was a good dust-up, too, before things returned to "Business as Usual."

Other Points
I did a better job of sensory engagement with Cthulhutech. Every GM Guide I've ever read has a reminder to GM's about this, too. Describe smells and sounds. If the air feels damp, tell them that. Just telling players that "the carpet squelches underfoot as you walk across it," goes a long ways towards setting the tone.

Part of that is because I'd just re-read Robin's Laws of Good Gamemastering (which is well worth the $8 PDF price). I have several other excellent GM-ing books around that I've been refreshing myself on, too.

I should probably write about a few of them.

I'm also going to suggest that my players read Play Unsafe - there are a number of excellent books for GM's and not that many for players.

I'm currently reading Kobold's Guide to Game Design, Volume 1. It's for people who are writing an adventure, not necessarily for GM's who are in the thick of things, as it were - but it has some good information. I'll be writing more about this one later, too.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Battletech Pods In Seattle

This is a hair off-topic from tabletop gaming, so please bear with me for this week?

So remember a few months ago, when I did my 200th mission in the Tesla pods?

There are pods in Seattle again.

We scoped it out last weekend. The Airlock is small, but the owner is enthusiastic and the game, of course, rocks.

As of this writing, they don't have a phone, but I heartily suggest checking them out.

The Airlock
12093 124th Ave NE
Kirkland, WA 98034

Located just east of I-405 in the Totem Square strip mall between Laughs Comedy Club and the Bead Hut.

I did about a dozen missions last night, and had an absolute blast. I even managed to talk my wife into trying the pods out.

She's a boardgamer and a roleplayer, but not really much of a video gamer. Because of this, I didn't expect her to enjoy the pods. What we did is have her watch one game. She sat right next to me (only outside the pod), and watched the screen and all the buttons I was pushing (I'm running expert level, so there are a lot of buttons to keep track of).

We then bought her into a Basic mission. She did really poorly, but a large part of that was the fact that the average experience of the other pilots in that game had over 300 Missions. And she ... sorta liked it.

So she tried dropping into an expert-level game. She did much better. Better enough that I suspect she has more natural talent for this sort of thing than I, and will be significantly better than I am once she gets some practice. She was still near the bottom of the heap score-wise, but showed significant potential.

Meanwhile, I learned the fun way that I'm not the only Light Mech Pilot around anymore. That's nice. There is one pilot who is scarily good with a Commando, and another pilot and I did the Circle of Death for about two-thirds of a mission.

I had a great time.

Thanks, Uglyman for opening up locally. I look forward to many many entertaining missions and eventual Master Trials.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

One-Shots Update

So ... one-shots. Remember last year, how I'd decided not to buy any new RPG books until I'd used my most recent purchase?

It's the New Year's Resolution I broke last year - and didn't renew this year.

But I did run a couple of one-shots. Well - one last year, and one earlier this year.

Last year's one-shot was FUDGE. I actually used The Deryni Adventure Game. I generated one PC per player and sent the characters out a few weeks in advance along with a description of the basics of the system.

Part of the reason I chose FUDGE is because FATE is a flavor of FUDGE, and the upcoming Dresden Files RPG is a FATE-based game. And one of my players is foaming at the mount with excitement. Since The Dresden Files Role-Playing Game was due by GenCon, I figured a quick FUDGE game would get him ready for FATE.

And, before anyone snarks about the game not being out yet, I suggest you grab your copy of this book, and read number 117. If you don't own it, yet, then go to IPR and buy it!

The game was ... okay. The players weren't as into it as I'd have liked, and my usual off-the-cuff GM-ing style didn't seem to work. I had fun, and (apparently) so did the players, but I was left feeling a bit unsatisfied. And I didn't get the enthusiastic vibe from the players that you can get after a good session. It showed a lot of potential - and I'd definitely be willing revisit the game for a sequel at some point - I deliberately left a few plot hooks dangling - but I suspect that, if the players were filling out a report card, it would have received a B-minus or C-plus grade.

For my second one-shot, I grabbed a game that I knew the players were more enthusiastic about - Cthulhutech. I made more characters than players, and I left them incomplete. Not "five hours of work later, I had a character" incomplete - those of you familiar with the game will know what I mean when I say, "I didn't spend the characters' cheats." I had an idea of where to go story-wise.

We had a blast. The game went well - I had a hint-dropping NPC available if needed (something I hadn't thought of - it was a player idea that was easy to insert into the game). And the Big Finish was fun.

My good friend Wade, who is one of the primary reasons I do these one-shots, wrote up his reaction to the game.

My next one-shot (yet to be scheduled) will be King Arthur Pendragon, a game I've wanted to play since the first edition came out - and a game from which I have frequently borrowed bits for use in other games. I'll have to write about that, sometime ...

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Geek Honesty

Gamers - the hardcore serious ones - are among the most honest people I know. It's one of the things about our culture that I very much appreciate sometimes.

Those of you who don't know me in person are probably not aware of how my luck turns - it (like that of most people) swings wildly from good to bad and back again. Thankfully, the extreme good and extreme bad tend to both be for minor things - for which I am extremely thankful. And my bad luck tends to be related to things rather than people.

It means that, if everyone I know purchases the same book, mine will be the one that falls out of its cover. It happens to me fairly often - I'm not even surprised by it, anymore.

So what does this have to do with gaming and honesty?

Simple: What do I spend the most money on?

Right. Game materials. Books, board games, card games ... you name it.

My first defective game book was a copy of Sorcerer. I e-mailed the designer, asking what my options were. He just dropped another one in the mail for me. "Just send the bad one back when you get a chance."

My second defective book was a few years later - a Fantasy Flight Games d20 book (I think it was a Monstous compendium, but I'm not 100% sure). Again: A copy was mailed to me within two days.

When I went to my first convention for Asmodee (Origins 2005), I spent it in the open gaming area. At a nearby table, there was a copy of Pizza Box Football that the designer had just ... left there.

"Do you need me," I remember asking, "to keep an eye on that for you?"

"It'll be okay," he said, "You must be new at this."

Over the course of that weekend, several thousand gamers wandered through that room. Several hundred looked at the game - they rolled the dice, or played a few turns, or even played a full game.

On Sunday afternoon, the designer wandered back by. It was all there - even down to the dice and pegs the game includes. He grinned at me, "You see? I told you it'd be okay here."

It's stuck with me.

I had a defective (non-game) book from Amazon a few months back - they sent the replacment next-day air and sent a label for return shipping. I also received a little note in their instruction e-mail, "If we don't have the defective one back within 30 days, we'll bill your card for the replacement."

I have never seen a similar phrase in an e-mail from a game publisher.

It's a completely different culture, sometimes.

Oh - there's a bit more. I'll fill you in once it's fully resolved.