Thursday, January 30, 2020


Random thought: I really want Steve Jackson Games to get the license to the "Miri" episode of classic Trek, so they could make a super-specific guidebook to her disease-ridden world and it's splotchy purple adults. A sourcebook that would naturally be titled: GURPS GRUPS.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The PCs Have Sold Their Souls... Again

Quick update about my Night's Black Agent's campaign. I am a bastard GM. This weekend, I got two of the PCs to sell their souls to... well, not quite the devil, thankfully. They sold their character's souls to Graf Orlok (of the 1922 silent film Nosferatu). Still pretty bad. It was kind of surprising just how easily they went along with it. Player Characters do the darnedest things.

To be fair, there was an element of trickery on my part, in that the Renfield who brokered the deal over-acted and hammed it up so much they kind of took him to be a buffoon, and as a result the PCs under-estimated the entire situation. The cartoonish nature of the ritual's trappings made them lower their guard and play along when they should have been "nope"-ing the hell out of there.

I once had the opportunity to be within earshot of a real-life Masonic initiation ceremony when a friend who used to be a Mason took me out to a campground on a weekend when he thought there wasn't anything going on out there. I remember hearing the ruckus from across the park, and thinking: "Man, paranoid conspiracy theorists imagine that's some globe-dominating cabal of the Illuminati, but it's clearly just a bunch of goofy middle-aged white-guys LARPing in aprons. It would really suck if you drank the kool-aid, and psyched yourself up for selling your soul in exchange for the Higher Mysteries, only to get that silliness instead. What a let down that might be." And that germ of an idea stuck in my craw for years until I finally got a chance to use it in a game this weekend.

If we're hanging out some time, hit me up for the details. It's a pretty good yarn, but full of idiocy that would get taken out of context and offend or frighten someone if I threw it up on the interwebs.

(To explain the "...Again" in the title: about a year ago, one of the other PCs in this same campaign basically invited Mina Harker to attack her, and inadvertently gave the 100 year old English vampire bride the keys to her mind. They've been dealing with the fall-out from that ever since, but apparently didn't really learn from her mistakes.)

Sunday, January 12, 2020

A little D&D over new years

At the end of the year we get together with some of my oldest dearest friends from back in the day. As usual, this resulted in a little bit of D&D. A total of 23 hours of D&D 5th Ed across 3 days. For most of that we had DM + 5 players, and for the last day of it there 7 players. It was a lot of fun.

As you may recall from my posts about gaming with this group a year ago, the PCs had rolled into a town called Whitspur and immediately found that something was terribly wrong there.

The landmark ancient tower that used to reach toward the heavens had been torn apart, leaving a tunnel in the middle of town. The local Duke had cordoned it off, and sent teams to explore the depths. Those teams came back with mysterious cuts of meat, which the Duke started selling at his Inn. Everyone who'd tried it raved about the delicious new food, and soon thereafter most of the town was physically addicted to the delicious rewards of the dungeon.

So my players dove straight in. I'd kind of intended there to be more investigative stuff going on in town, but they hopped a fence, burst into the dungeon, and disrupted the Duke's subterranean butcher-shop. Good for them.

In the process, they kind of got themselves stuck in the Dungeon. The Duke's men hadn't got a good look at them, but knew that some group had raided, killed a few of his guards in the process, and were well on their way to exposing and/or ending the unsavory bargain that the Duke had made with the intention of feeding his people. We left off a year ago, with them in the thick of things, and me having to keep very good records of what Dwarven Forge terrain pieces were laid out so I could rebuild a year later should they decide to backtrack. They'd explored a bit of dungeon, had their escape route cut off by the local guards, and discovered that the mystery meat was ghoul meat. There was a temple down in the dungeon, and the Duke was making some sort of regular sacrifice to it, which provided him with a ready supply of magically-produced ghouls.

I'd had a bunch of stuff prepped up in town that would have allowed them to discover the heart-breaking tale of the Duke's fall from grace. How he'd been hearing rumors of a big warlord and army coming from the West, and decided to tear open the old ruins in search of a weapon against the inevitable siege. What he found inside was an endless supply of ghouls, which, being a good and noble ruler, he wasn't about to unleash even on the worst enemy. However, it would at least solve the problems of the recent crop blight and inevitable food shortages that would come with a siege. Infinite meat might not be a superweapon, but it was a way to provision regardless of what happened outside it's walls. Who knew filet-of-ghoul was addictive, and his whole city would end up junkies and gluttons? I had this great back story worked out, difficult choices to be made, nuanced villains who certainly didn't think of themselves as villainous in the least (the Duke had a couple levels of Paladin under his belt)... I was really proud of myself. It was as if some great ancient evil had built this dungeon in anticipation of this exact turn of events. Those prophetic demony types are real good planners.

Then my players took the left turn at Albuquerque and dove straight into combat and a line of actions that seemed to make all my nuance not matter in the slightest. It was a fine pickle they'd gotten themselves into. But that's gaming. The script is not set, players have agency, and you can never be sure what direction things are going to go. You don't want all that prep to go to waste, but you can't force it on the players. It has to feel organic. Players absolutely have to have the power to go where you weren't expecting, or to decide that a given plotline just isn't for them. My players are especially good at going where I didn't expect, but I don't want to discourage them at all. I had a year to come up with a new story, or a way to make the original idea more appealing or accessible.

Thankfully, one of the players said his new girlfriend would like to join us this year. Her arrival gave me a way to still get them at least the most critical parts of the exposition that they'd missed by jumping straight down the hole. Better yet, it could be delivered by a PC instead of hoping they'd take some loose-lipped NPC prisoner, or gambling they might return to the surface and start following all my carefully constructed trail of clues.

When we left off a year ago, they didn't know what was in the next room of the dungeon, but they knew it was a room the Duke's men had already explored and used. So at the start of this year's mega-session, they found the new PC chained up in that room. I gave her a bare-bones one-page synopsis of things she'd found out about the Duke in her previous adventure that had ended with her locked in his dungeon. It wasn't the full mystery, really just a couple "gimme" clues they'd missed, because I didn't want to overwhelm the new player with too much detail. Turns out it was just enough to get the whole group talking and thinking about what was really going on here beyond just some monsters in a hole in the ground. This started the ball rolling. The PCs did a little more clue-collecting in the dungeon, found a hidden exit and got to see the blight on the countryside first hand, and then chased after more clues back in town. There was a long interview with a burned-out old Wizard who was a friend of the Duke's family. Some more clues at the edge of town, and later at a murder scene. A clandestine meeting with the Duke's right-hand-man by PCs wearing disguises. 23 hours worth of stuff. Long story short, this gave them enough of a goal and purpose that they even managed to extract a confession from the Duke before it was all over.

It was pretty great.

I should also mention that this group I get to game with in Portland is collectively just so much fun. Everybody leans hard into the role-playing, but also makes sure to leave room for fun and humor. We've got a crazy priestess of a heretical cult who recites randomly-generated platitudes like a walking fortune cookie; a conniving charlatan master-of-disguise that loves turning the tables on NPCs; an exceptionally short human fighter who gets real sensitive because everyone's always confusing him for a dwarf; and a cowbell-playing minotaur bard who cracked us all up with his "jazz hooves". The three new PCs (a dwarf paladin, and elvish druid and rogue) aren't quite as outrageous as those, but they were clearly defined and deeply played characters. They dove right into the deep end, and started swimming like pro's. Everyone was lively and remarkably focused... except for the moment when a character talked about the metaphysical taint on the Duke and everyone just lost it laughing for 5 very juvenile minutes. Tons of fun. Miss it already. December can't get here soon enough.

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Square Deal Saloon

Started a new RPG campaign just recently. The setting is more-or-less that of Shadows of Brimstone meets HBO's Deadwood. Two of the PCs collectively own a house-of-ill-repute in a boom-town, somewhere in the New Mexico Territory, just down the road from the smoking crater that is Brimstone. There's another competing saloon and gambling den in town, and a number of weird supernatural hijinks afoot. The other PC is one of their regular customers, who happens to work at the Telegraph Office.

For the first session I made some incoming Telegraph props. One was an actual message for one of the PCs, but the others are essentially plot coupons and nuggets of important information about sub-plots and opportunities, that the Telegraph Operator PC is obligated to make the rounds and deliver. It's working pretty well, as the PCs basically get to eavesdrop on everything going on in town. I made the community bustling with plotlines, colorful characters, and mysteries. It's meant to be layered and sandboxy, with the PCs getting to decide what things they want to stick their noses into, and whose pockets they wish to pick. So I've arranged all my subplots on a color-coded calendar (the first session is Wednesday, March 9th, 1887) that tracks how each storyline will progress if the players do nothing to interfere. I'm hoping they'll interfere frequently and with gusto. They seemed to love it, which is good, because I'm prepared to add a couple more Telegraphs each session for foreshadowing, character development, and clue-delivery.

The mechanics are a blend of Savage Worlds and the Drama System from Hillfolk, with some custom mechanics to emulate parts of Brimstone, and a few cool ideas lifted from other games I like. During character creation, I had the players choose from several small "fill-in-the-blank" quizzes I had prepared. Their answers to those questions let them define things in the town, name NPCs and establish relationships to them. Each of the quizzes had some mechanical benefit that it unlocked. For example, there was one that said: "There's a group of bandits causing trouble in the region. You used to ride with them, but had a falling out." It then listed two of the canonical Infamous Bandit Gangs from Shadows of Brimstone, and had the player choose which one they'd been part of. Then it said "someone in town knows your secret past. Who are they, and can you trust them?" It then gave a bonus on Guts and Riding skills, as befits someone who used to ride with a bunch of train-robbers. The player who chose this card was effectively embracing a western trope, getting a connection to something that's part of the official setting, and then given carte-blanche to invent and ally or foe in town. It worked great. We ended up with a really cool interlocking web of NPCs and plotlines.

I'm running this game at a friends' house, because one of the players is allergic to my cat. So I needed a good way to bring the game with me that doesn't involve me hauling the rulebooks to Savage Worlds, Deadlands, Hillfolk, and Shadows of Brimstone with me every week. So, I popped over to, and made myself a new GMing Notes wiki. It's a closed/private wiki, so I can just bring it up on my iPad.  All the most important rules are on there now, along with pages on every location, every NPC, those Telegraphs and other visual aides to show the players, and that color-coded plotline calendar that keeps me on top of what's likely to happen when. It's working pretty great thus far. I'm liking it enough I've begun adding my note files for my other two active RPG campaigns to the same wiki, so I'll have one highly-portable campaign database for all my future games.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Great Pumpkins

I played in an 11-hour halloween one-shot last night, run by my friend Jeremy Hill. It was a solid game, lots of fun. Every player had 2 PCs, college students who were going to a Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch. Each of your two PCs would arrive in two different car pools.

Scenes bounced back and forth between these two groups. One group ran into bloodthirsty ghosts at the pumpkin patch. The other group's car broke down, and they ended up asking for help at a creepy old house a few miles down the road... a house full of cannibal cultists. They seemed to be two entirely separate adventures taking place on the same night but just a few miles apart, but we eventually learned that the cannibal cult were actually the ones responsible for stirring up the ghosts that the other groups was battling.

It was pretty nifty way to tell the story. Jumping back and forth between the two groups allowed some cool "cliffhanger" cuts. Because each player had a two characters (one in each group), every time we hit a dead end in one mystery investigation, we could cut away to the other group for a little while.

When we'd come back to the previous "dead-end" later, in the intervening break one player or another would always have come up with another option that we hadn't tried before. I feel like there were places where we would have otherwise gotten frustrated or locked up, but the scene-hopping just naturally shook us free of that every time. It organically encouraged us to think outside the box. What's more, switching between our two characters worked to give you a break, so the nearly 12-hour session seemed to flash by super fast. Without exception, each player chose radically different personality and character types for their two characters, which probably amplified this rejuvenating effect. It worked really well.

I'm seriously considering stealing this trick for my own games going forward. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Three Cons, Old Friends, and a Boom

I have been busy as heck lately, and playing a lot of games.

Work sent me out to GenCon, were I ran demos of Shadows of Brimstone, Forbidden Fortress, Last Night On Earth, Fortune & Glory, and A Touch Of Evil. It was super fun and I love sharing and teaching many of my favorite games to total strangers... but it was also very exhausting because GenCon is a huge show with a million faces and a hundred thousand games.

In my off hours at the con, I played a couple of new games I hadn't tried before.

Incan Gold is a fun press-your-luck game that I reliably came in... well, certainly not winning, but not in last place, either, so I feel like I did okay for a newbie. The best part was that I got to play the game with my old friend Brendan Riley, who lives far away and I hadn't seen in several years, and my buddy Bill French. I never would have expected them to meet, given that they live in different states, but GenCon is a place of miracles.

Brendan's company Rattlebox Games is playtesting a game called Udder Chaos, the only competitive cow-milking game I've ever seen. It's fast and goofy and full of rhymes. It was light-hearted fun, and you'd be helping support a old friend of mine, so check it out if you get a chance.

One night at GenCon I played a party game called Buy The Rights, in which you get a random hand of high concepts and genres and have to make your best pitch about why producers should invest money with you. I hammed it up, basically role-playing as a different screenwriter or producer in each round, and it turns out that nonsense is a very successful strategy in this game.

The other fun new experience of this GenCon for me was Hellapagos, a party game that starts out fully cooperative and then suddenly very quickly descends into murder and sometimes cannibalism. It was a social game that really felt like the first season of Lost. Everyone was working together to build a raft and catch fish, except for a couple slackers who just raided the wreckage for personal treasures. Much fun was had by all, including those who died when suddenly everyone started scrambling for the limited space on the raft. I, as one of those horrible slackers who spent a lot of turns searching the wreck, found a decent supply of bullets, which I traded 1 at a time to the only person who had found a gun, in exchange for her using them on people other than myself. In the end, 3 of the 8 players, including myself, made it back to civilization to tell the story of how we were the sole survivors of the wreck. Just don't ask about the barbecue.

Shortly after getting back from GenCon, I packed my suitcase a second time and headed to my favorite little (~1,000 attendees) local gaming convention, Dragonflight. I had originally planned to just go for fun, but at the last minute agreed to volunteer to run the Story Games Lounge when the usual volunteer dropped out. As it turns out, volunteering to run the Story Games room is itself a lot of fun.

First day of Dragonflight Game Convention:

GM'd an awesome double-length Psi*Run for 7 players.

Explored an alien planet in The Quiet Year

Lost a game of Snake Oil to the dreaded Fraud card

Played "2 Rooms and a Boom" till my brains hurt. It's a great social-deduction game, kind of like "Are You A Werewolf?" except everyone gets to play the entire game and know one has to die until the last couple seconds.

Won a game of Jetpack Unicorn. Honestly, I'm not crazy about this game. I think Superfight does the same thing, but better.

Played some more 2 Rooms and a Boom. (Across 6 games I've now been on both teams a couple times, been the bomber and been an Ambassador.)

On Day 2 of Dragonflight:

 GM'd Og the caveman RPG for 5 players. No use big words play Og. The cavemen met The Doctor, and caused a regeneration.

GM'd another successful Psi*Run, for 4 new players. Hallucinatory madness derailed everything in a delightful way.

Hosted a giant marathon Microscope timeline for 6 players. It was epic! One of the best-developed, most fleshed-out microscope games I've ever seen. These new players really picked it up quickly and dove deep into the game.

That night, I got the band back together! Playing in Laura Mortensen's annual midnight Urchin game, as my recurring character, Rory Wanker of the formerly famous Rory Wanker and the Bloody Stickers. We're making a comeback, if only in my mind.

Other games played in the Story Game Lounge included more Quiet Year, some Zombie Cinema, and a few escapades of esteemed Baron Munchausen.

Day 3 of Dragonflight:

Played in a delightful Lego and d20s game run by Tim Beach. Two of the 5 players were kids, and they kept the game light-hearted and unpredictable. Tim did an amazing job of making the game work on the kids level and not lose the adults to boredom. Nearly all of my GMing experience in the last 20 years is with adults, but I can only imagine GMing for kids takes extra creativity, patience, and panache. Well done, sir.

Later that night:
I went to a birthday party at Zulu's game cafe. While there, we played a game of Dark Gothic. We all lost when the Shadows filled up in a sudden hurry. Quite the shame, as I was super close to winning, and probably could have done so in one to two more turns.

The next weekend:

Battlestar Galactica board game with old friends I hadn't seen in forever: Andy Collins, Gwen Kestrel, and Greg Collins (and their friend Ben). I was a frakking toaster the whole time, and I successfully destroyed the pathetic human fleet by breaking their morale. It was a solid game, and the humans came very close to winning. Possibly the closest game I've ever played of BSG. 

After that, we played Between Two Cities, which is a very clever cooperative drafting and tile-placement game where you're building a city together with the player on your right and simultaneously building another city together with the player on your left. I didn't do so good at this, coming in 4th out of 5th place. I love the entire-cooperative nature of the mechanics, and how that's counter-weighted by the scoring. It's a game that exists in a very unique head space. I want the players adjacent to me to do well, and any other players to do poorly, but I don't really have a way cause that second part. There's probably some deeper strategy I'm not seeing yet, but I can at least admire the novelty of this truly unique game.

We followed that up with Royal Turf. It's a Knizia game about horse racing and betting on horse racing. In the abstract the topic doesn't sound interesting to me at all, like if you said "want to play a game about racetrack betting?" I'd reply with "not unless it's Royal Turf". Every time I play it I feel like a) I'm really not very good at it,  and b) the game is surprisingly fun and enjoyable despite all that.

Then the wonderful Bobbie Hyde showed up to pick me up and we talked her into playing a round of Decrypto. It's a team code-guessing game, and we both really enjoyed it. If I didn't already own Codenames Duet, I would immediately rush out and by Decrypto. I feel Decrypto is a much better game than normal Codenames, but that makes it about equal with Codenames Duet (which is closer to codenames, but also generally a vastly improved version of Codenames itself).

So, it's been a summer cavalcade of new games and old friends. Pretty damn cool way to spend the days. And it ain't over yet. This weekend is PAX West! I will once again be running demos of Flying Frog adventure games. Sleep is for the weak.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Dear Boss

Yesterday I mentioned props I had handed out in my Nights Black Agents Dracula Dossier game, and it dawned on me that I'd never shared the letter the PCs had been sent by Jack The Ripper, whom they accidentally freed from Cross Angel Cold Storage.

Most of it is in fonts because I was lazy, but I told them to imagine it was all hand-written, and that the group's Forgery expert could identify 2 of the 4 handwriting patterns as matching the "Dear Boss" note and the "From Hell" letter. Either it's the best forgery he's seen in the Ripperology field, or somehow both of those letter writers are still alive. It's less directly actionable than the prop in yesterday's post, but it was still pretty fun.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Just Lettin' 'Em Talk It Out

I ran another session of Night's Black Agents: Dracula Dossier yesterday. I'm going to brag a little bit. It was the least amount of work I've had to do as a GM at the game in possibly forever, and it was amazing. Two of the players were running late, so rather than dive into the plot, the other players just started in talking in-character and planning for the next op. This lead to them reflecting on some of the props I'd given them in a previous session, and suddenly they found themselves deeper in character discussing the ramifications of a letter they'd intercepted. The other players showed up, and they had to bring them up to speed on it. This started a whole new round of debate and even philosophical discussion, as they pieced together the frame of a plan on how to bring the fight to the enemy. I didn't have to do anything. For over 4 hours they bantered back and forth, with everyone super-engaged and excited.  I played one NPC, for about 30 seconds, near the very end of the session when they decided they wanted to phone a friend. Other than that it was all them. And they enjoyed it so much, everyone kept complimenting my GMing and the depth of the world I'd created, as I mostly just twiddled my thumbs.

Now, to be fair, I did a ton of work before and between sessions to set this up. I worked out the rules of what vampirism is in the game world (as NBA provides a toolbox for the GM to design their own unique take on what the evil in the world really is). I built a huge roster of NPCs each with their own agenda and timelines and loyalties, and let that simmer in the background. And then I dangled tantalizing clues about the true nature of things before the players eyes in the form of some nifty props.

Without the context of everything that's happened in the game, this probably reads as maddeningly obtuse, but my players were able to decipher it enough to hatch a scheme to turn Rasputin, Paracelsus, Graf Orlok, Jack The Ripper, Mina Harker and a Moroccan Djinn named Aisha Qandesha against Count Dracula. It's going to be epic.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Sailing Off Into The 7th Sunset

I wrapped up my 7th Sea Campaign tonight. It was 7 sessions of play, mostly just fulfilling what was officially a 5-chapter story. There was a terrible monster on the loose, and the PCs eventually figured out it used to be a Montaigne noblewoman who'd blooded the wrong Syrneth artifact. When she tried to call it to her with Porte, she got her soul trapped inside it, and her body turned into a murderous Porte-wielding monster. The players returned the artifact to the Syrneth ruins where it had originally been found, and thereby put the monster to rest. One of the PCs sacrificed themself to seal the monster in, which wasn't my original planned solution but was suitably bad-ass enough to work and feel like an epic campaign-capper. Everyone had a blast, and it was nice to run a game to a logical and exciting crescendo in a relatively short number of sessions.

Now, we certainly could have continued from there with the surviving characters and 1 replacement. It was tempting to do so, but for one misgiving: I really don't like the 2nd Edition mechanics. I love the heck out of the 7th Sea setting, but I didn't really enjoy the new system. It wasn't awful, but it never quite gelled for me. The players enjoyed the game, because I gave them a compelling mystery and an intriguing cast of NPCs to interact with -- and because the PCs were themselves fun and colorful so I definitely can't  claim credit for everything good about the campaign.

For being such a light system, it took a surprising amount of work to make fights and chases fun. The Action Sequences worked well if I took a lot of time to prepare them with a bunch of Consequences (we're fighting on a boat in a storm) and Opportunities and Villain with a good special ability and a couple Brute squads to back him or it up. If the PCs unexpectedly picked a fight when I wasn't prepared for it the battles ended up being one-sided and lackluster. Maybe that's my failing as a GM, and maybe it's not as bad as I thought, as my players didn't have nearly as many complaints as I did. For a super-light system where your nastiest Villain only has 3 stats, one of which is literally the sum of the value of the other 2 stats, it took a surprising amount of prep to make Fights and Chases feel tense. None of my PCs were Duelists, so it's possible that fight scenes would have been more readily dynamic if we'd gone that route, but as I mentioned in previous posts I think the Duelist rules had some balance issues. In D&D if the players go off the map, you can pad out your run-time by throwing a handful of goblins (or something stronger at higher levels) at them. There's no 7th-Sea equivalent of the low-prep filler-fight.

The Dramatic Sequences had the same problem of being cool if I anticipated them and prepped all sorts of neat things happening during the Sequence for players to spend Raises on, and falling flat if the players chose to investigate somewhere or talk to someone I wasn't prepared for. I'm pretty good (I think) at improvising NPC dialog and I had a multi-layered mystery plotline so I made those improv scenes generally fun, but the lack of dynamic Consequences and Opportunities in most social or investigative scenes meant that the Players didn't necessarily get their "money's worth" for character points spent on non-combat skills. There was lot of GM-fiat involved. I probably could have done better in the planning department there. The age-old GM crutch of having the PC roll some dice and basing a decision on the roll is very complicated in 7th Sea. There's no equivalent to rolling a natural 20, and rolls where the PC gets no successes is almost unheard of. As GM, you have to build multiple Consequences and Opportunities into every die roll, or else just accept that the PC will automatically succeed. I did the later far more often than the former. Again, that might be my failing more than the rulebook's. I dunno.

We're almost certainly going to switch to a different campaign with a new setting and new rules when next we get together. If that weren't the case, or if I were to give 7th Sea 2nd Ed another go somewhere down the line, I can think of a tool I might create that would help make these Action and Dramatic Sequences easier to put together on the fly. Basically a deck (or a couple decks) of Consequences and Opportunities on notecards. This would provide some inspiration and help the GM spice up a Sequence or Risk. Having them on cards you could play to the table would also help the Players realize what options they had during each scene. I know we had a couple times where the PCs missed Opportunities and at least once suffered a Consequence because by the time we got to someone's third action in a scene they'd just forgot about a detail I'd described at the start of the round, and so they dumped all their Raises on a big hit. That was ok, I guess, but it was definitely a rough edge of the system that could be polished smooth with deck or two.

The other hard part for me as GM was balancing Story Chapters. I like giving my players a lot of freedom to chart their own course, so it made me reluctant to spell out the 5 steps to my story. I was crafting a mystery to investigate, so I didn't want to spoil it with detailed steps that revealed too much. A consequence of that was my steps were a little too vague and it took 7 sessions (by my count, one of the players disagreed it was this long and my notes don't include play dates to verify) to finish our 5 Chapter Story. None of the players managed to complete their personal Stories. Partly that was because they were very focused on the main mystery, but when I did go out of my way to introduce a new major NPC for one PC's Story, they bushwacked him in the very next scene and kinda short-circuited that Storyline. So, yes, I could have done better, but it was also at least a little on them. Over all this isn't insurmountable, as I think there's a learning curve to Story creation and we would have eventually found our footing (in writing them up as well as multitasking the pursuit of plot) if the campaign continued. It's just that given the other headaches and speed bumps in the system, we're choosing to move on before that learning curve has gotten past the initial spike.

Anyhow, it's not a horrible game, and I still love the setting. I just think I'd rather put my efforts into something different for now, and my players are willing to indulge that.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Players Gonna Be Players

7th Sea (in either edition) is not a game where PCs die very often. The mechanics of the game(s) give players a lot of outs, and lots of ways to seize narrative control or survive against all odds. Damage at worst only knock PCs unconscious. To actually kill a PC, the Villains, Monsters, and general NPCs need to first incapacitate the PCs, and then have an uninterrupted follow-up action to straight-up cold-blooded murder those characters. And even when you do get to that situation, the GM is actively encouraged to not kill them outright unless it is especially dramatically appropriate. PC death should only come if it was earned and warranted, non-random, and well-warned in advance. The GM is really encouraged to only kill PCs in very atypical circumstances, and generally only in cases where the player would themselves have to admit "yep, that makes sense, I should have seen that coming". PC death should only happen as a major foreshadowed plot development. Anything less, and instead of dying they should wake up tied to a chair, or wash up on the shore, or fall off a cliff and be left for dead but actually crawl away to nurse their wounds. It's swashbuckling heroism, where the plucky heroes always win in the end.

That said, I very nearly killed 2 PCs in my latest session of 7th Sea.


In fact, the second time, I absolutely would have killed them, except one of the PCs had a special ability I had forgotten about, which allowed him to spend his last Hero Point to slip loose and stab the villain with the very knife he was about to use for PCtricide.

All because Players just had to be sassy.

It wasn't like I'd built up to this. The Villain who nearly killed them actually met them for the first time in this very session.  He's not even the Big-Bad of the storyline. He's an secret agent of the Inquisition who was working covertly to root out the same supernatural evil the PCs are working against. I expected him to be a distasteful ally in the "enemy of my enemy" sense, someone they could gather intel from, and maybe trick into expending himself against the real Big Bad.

Instead, right after they'd fought a really tough skirmish with the Big Bad that they'd technically won but at great cost, when the PCs were at their weakest, they chose to pick a fight with the Inquisitor. They mouthed off repeatedly, insulted his manhood, dared him to attack them, and threatened to expose his secret mission to the local government he was working against. It was pretty ballsy, and kind of awesome... and it was also a bit of a tactical blunder to pick this fight with an untested villain just seconds after a battle that had left them wounded and low on resources.

2 out of 3 PCs went down almost immediately, and the third fled knowing they were outclassed.

Fade to black. (If this had been D&D, they'd have been dead, but this is 7th Sea.)

They wake up later in restraints, being interrogated by the mustache-twirling Inquisitor. There's also another NPC present, who is tending their wounds, and seems to be sympathetic to their cause. He tells them to be careful with what they say because the Inquisitor is basically looking for an excuse to kill them. There's some exposition and playful back and forth, and I'm trying to lead to a situation where the PCs realize they actually have similar goals (defeat the supernatural evil that is murdering innocent victims all through the land).

But the one player is having none of it. He immediately starts mouthing off again. To such an extent, I feel like I have no believable options. The Inquisitor draws his dagger and leans in to disfigure the PC. I know full well as I do it that the PC won't knuckle under, and will continue to mouth off. I resign myself to having to kill a PC any second now, in a pretty awful way.

And then the player says "You forgot I have the 'Slip Free' power. I spend a Hero Point. He thinks I'm tied up, but I'm not. Taking him by surprise, I shove his own dagger into him". I was not expecting that. Well done, player. I say "well done!"