Monday, February 16, 2009

Are you sure you don't want to search the car again?

For context, read my previous post first. It tells the tale of my first GMing experience way back in the early 80s.

I've carried that dreadful "secret door experience" with me ever since. While I feel like I learned a lot from it, the truth is I've got some scars - my first session of any RPG I'm terrified that I'm going to wreck it before it even gets going. While I like to think my plotlines are far more sophisticated these days, that my NPCs exist for reasons other than to satisfy my ego, and that I know when to roll the dice and when to just say 'don't roll - lemme just tell ya what ya found'. I like to think that, anyway, but I don't always believe it. I get opening night jitters, and have on occasion aborted a campaign because (in my mind) I made the first session suck.

Last night, I was GMing Trail of Cthulhu. Investigators arrive on a scene, there's a car idling in the driveway. They ignore the car, and head into the house. So I have the car's engine conk out, provoking them to check on it. They walk up in the dark, shine a light on the dashboard, and check the fuel gauge. It's indeed run itself dry and sputtered out. Player thinks she's got the relevant clue (that the car's been idling for a very long time), and heads back into the house.

In Trail of Cthulhu (and the GUMSHOE system it's based on), you never roll to gather clues. Instead, clue acquisition is automatic provided you announce you're using a relevant skill in the right place. There's a clue in the car - and it's a pretty vital clue. If she'd said "I search the car" or "I check the glove box" or "I use Evidence Collection on the car" she'd have gotten a very vital tidbit. But she didn't. Somehow, I had convinced myself that meant GUMSHOE players would always get their hands on every available clue - but it just isn't realistic to expect that.

Later, she and an NPC (a more-or-less random NPC that got unexpectedly invited by a PC to the crime scene) are getting ready to leave the site. Knowing that a pretty vital clue has been missed, and that it won't be there in the morning, I try to subtly have my NPC suggest checking the car. I didn't want to be so miserably blatant as my childhood "the elf wants to go back and search for secret doors in room #3 again" blunders, so I fumbled about foolishly having him talk about the keychain in the car. The scene struck me as being stilted, the subtext felt forced and uncomfortable and apparently still too obtuse. She didn't even end up with the right clue (just the keys). I felt like such a freakin' idiot over that scene, like a dumb child GMing his first game, and wondering if I'd possibly just ruined the campaign for her. Eventually, I dropped it, and moved the narrative forward in a different direction.

Other than that mistake, and the session running longer than it was supposed to (my most common error), I think things went pretty well last night. Talking with Sarah about the game this morning, she clearly didn't notice the problem that was staring me in the face. I dodged a bullet, and didn't even know it. If the scene was odd to her, it wasn't so odd she felt the need to mention it even when prompted. Guess I'll just sit quietly and not let on.

1 comment:

Vampir said...

This is why I don't build my scenarios based on what player characters will do...