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May 24, 2009

Return of the Golden Parrot: GM Wrapup

Tags: , — inky @ 2:10 pm

Ok, the game ran two sessions and seems to have hit a good stopping point, so perhaps I will write a little about it. As usual the original GM notes didn’t end up having more than a vague resemblance to the final product, but that is pretty much par for the course so I didn’t have too much invested in them. Anyway, let me talk about this in a couple of different ways.

First just as a game, straight-up. I thought it went pretty well — people seemed to have a good time and there were lots of funny bits.

[rpg] JohnnyFalcone asks, “On the other hand, what about the rest of the crew?”
[rpg] JohnnyFalcone says, “We don’t want to leave Stubbsy to die again.”
[rpg] Minnie says, “they’re already dead, by my reckoning”
[rpg] Jack says, “Blowing them up might give them a peaceful rest!”

Minnie digs around for her smelling salts
Minnie says, “(contents: gunpowder, sea-salt and snuff)”

Apparently pirates are big into gunpowder-related comedy.

I had originally planned this to be a little more action-y and swashbuckle-y than it was but it became apparent that folks (player-wise and character-wise) wanted something a little more straight-up conversation and comedy, so there we go. (I think I should have realized this from the beginning, since Iain will basically play a drunken sailor any chance he gets.)

Next, lemme talk about it as a game from the GM stance. The main new thing I was trying here (besides the system) was tactical maps. On the whole I’m afraid this was a flop; it didn’t detract from the game as far as I know, but I don’t think it really provided any value. This ties into the larger thing I’m trying to work on as a GM which is, basically, mechanizing more things. Like, the theory is that you actually get better rpg-ing if you turn totally free-form roleplaying into something more like combat, where dice are hitting the table and influencing how the characters act — this should help throw in some unexpected outcomes and also make it clear to the characters what a reasonable “bite-sized” action is.

Like, there was a conversation during the game where Johnny is hitting on some NPC and he rolls a rapport roll and gets a pretty good result. Ok, so obviously he does well out of it, but it’s not obvious when playing out the conversation what exactly this translates into or what he gets. In theory if this had been turned into a series of back-and-forth exchanges there would have been a better setup where he’s making his goals more explicit (“I want to get some tickets for the ball”) and we’re finding out if he achieves them or not (“No, but you do get inside to see the painting of Baron Stone”).

Similarly, there was an escape-from-the-whirlpool at the end of the second session that really should have been more explicitly mechanized if there was going to be any tension at all; as it was, it was clearly just up to me as GM whether they escaped or not. I could call for rolls, but there was no larger framework for those rolls to fit into so they didn’t actually make events more objectively-determined.

The reason why I didn’t try to mechanize it much more than I did was twofold. One, because it was almost the end of the adventure and I figured it would have taken too much time to explain the rules. So the solution here is probably to, at the start of the next adventure that I wanted to have this kind of thing in, do some explicit rules discussion and run a sample “tactical situation” or two like this so people (including me!) have a chance to get a handle on it.

The other reason is that I did in fact trot this out at the end of the first session too (situation: you’re on a ship that pirates are swarming over, while you try to get across the ocean to a lighthouse) and it went pretty enh. Like, as a game it was reasonably fun but the tactics basically didn’t add anything. Couple explanations for this I can see: folks were rolling sucky (I ran the numbers, and they were like 15% below where they should be), folks weren’t clear about the tactics (I should have been pushing indirect skill checks to create aspects way more explicitly than I was), but mostly it was my fault — the NPCs didn’t have any goals. Like, ok, the pirates all rush into the hold, but then they didn’t do anything, nor did they have any particular reason to be down there as opposed to any other room on the ship (except to steal Jack’s hat, the bastards). I think if I’d given them some more specific objectives (say, go up in the rigging and cut down the sails; go into the hold and explode the gunpowder) the PCs would have been motivated to move around and we might have started to get somewhere.

Finally, the last thing here was this was intended as a test and a sales pitch for the 7th-Sea-in-SotC system. In that respect it was a qualified success, I guess. I don’t think it ran any worse than it would have if it was in 7th Sea (the combat was a little clunky, but I bet with these mostly-not-familiar-with-7th-Sea players it would have been worse with the original system), and in a few respects it went better. Like, having skills for social interaction is nice, and the few times people did use skills to create aspects were cool. Also, character building was way better: there wasn’t any “oops, I accidentally created an ineffective character due to my lack of understanding of the intricacies of the system”, and I think the characters were at least as flavorful. On the other hand, I didn’t feel like there were any major wins in gameplay that would convince people to make the effort to switch — I’d have to see a really smooth and fun combat before I’d be convinced myself, I think (if I weren’t already, I mean).

So that’s the wrap. Back to the GM drawing board in some respects, but I had a good time, at least.

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