Sunday, September 30, 2012

GM Commentary: Last Rest Episode 1 Checkpoint Char-Lay

I listen to a lot of DVD commentary tracks, not just for the amusing anecdotes, but more for the directors/creators/writer's commentary on craft.  I recently listened to the commentary on Firefly, looking for inspiration for both Reign and my upcoming Fading Suns game, and thought that the idea of episode commentary would pair well with the Episode summaries I'm doing for my Reign game.  So, since I've posted the first Episode summary over on the Last Rest Blog, what follows here is my first GM commentary.

This might be a bit disjointed, as it's mostly just the thoughts that have been rattling around since I ran the game on Monday.  Also, for any of my players, fear not!  This won't have any really big spoilers.  Also, also,  you should go read my episode summary before you read this as it's written with the assumption that you have done just that.

  • With the possibility of illness that could have cost me two players, I brought in a 7th player and was once again very pleased with the way the One Roll Engine character creation allows relatively quick character creation of PCs that posses at least a rudimentary background.
  • Another pleasing discovery: with seven players the game did not feel as crowded, to me as GM, at least, as if I had been running D&D.
  • My planning for the episode was pretty minimal... After writing the episode teaser, I spent a week mulling things over and then a few days before the game typed up a page of notes covering the village, the situation before the PCs arrived and the major NPCs.  I also rolled up two major NPC antagonists and about a half a dozen NPC companies.
  • Fun Fact!  Unsure of whether the players would decide to go into the village or would try to avoid it, I planned for both possibilities.  I decided that either choice would introduce one of the main antagonist NPCs and that NPCs company.
  • As is often the case for me, choosing a theme song for each NPC was one of the things I spent the most time considering.  I decided on the following three songs for the three NPCs I thought had the most impact on the evening's plot.
    • For Mara, the Headwoman on the Village, as she had lost a son (not sure if that was caught, though I tried to stress her red hair and the red hair of one of the corpses) and could possibly loose a grandchild (I'm sure that I did not state this but just implied it) I went with the Swans Are Dead version of "Blood on Yr Hands"
    • For Joachim Bladebright, my fanatical pack leader and werewolf sorcerer, I finally decided on Rasputina's cover of "Bad Moon Rising," which I also decided to use as the closing credits.
    • For the third NPC, who did not end up featuring in the episode and who the PCs will meet at a later time and date, I had several good options but then I happened to have my music library on random when The Birthday Party's "Swampland" came on and I knew that was the theme I wanted.
  • Speaking of NPCs, at the start of play I gave a pre-game speech where I warned my players that combat was deadly and then I promptly forgot it myself.  With several good rolls my players managed to concentrate an immense amount of damage on Joachim's head, which, since he had come to their dinner party and I could not plausibly get away with having him magically be wearing a helmet.  I stalled a bit, trying to think, as I had planned to make Joachim an ongoing NPC, but my players were most adamant that they should have murderized him with their blows, so finally I just had him escape the room long enough to speak 'off-camera' to someone else.  By the time the session was ending, I decided that Joachim had a brother who had been off prowling the moors in wolf form but returned when the fight started and Joachim gave that brother enough information to (A) escape in a timely fashion, the fate I had originally hoped would be Joachim's, and (B) have good reason to recognize the PCs later and plot vengeance against them.
  • Speaking of combat, other than having characters die that I wanted to live, I was quite satisfied.  It went quickly and it seemed reasonably intuitive to the players so that there was very little rules explanation.
  • I quite enjoyed the players thinking on their feet, something that often got lost in D&D games as each session moved from set-piece combat encounter to set-piece combat encounter.  They wisely kept the antagonist separated and in their ambush they worked to draw an NPC off into the dark for slaughter quite nicely.  I also enjoyed their plan to throw a dinner party, a nice delightful bit of social interaction.
  • Some take-aways for the next session:
    • Force the PCs to break into different working groups.  This session saw them splitting into sneaky and non-sneaky groups (though almost all of them are very sneaky).
    • Find unexpected skills for the PCs to use.  Since two of the players have sailor characters now, I need to make sure that Sailing comes into play every once in a while and that Climbing (that other Sailor skill) could be applied to each session.
    • Have the PCs make more Moral decisions.  This episode they quickly assumed that the Unbroken Border was bad and that they were the heroes and that the solution was the slaughter (or at least subduing through violence) of the Unbroken Border.  While the (unplanned before the game session) addition of child hostages meant that they wanted to be smart about their plan, they really seemed to have very little qualms or doubt that their course of action was correct.
And lastly, for any of my players that read this, I strongly urge you to watch the video before and consider that it is a portent of an NPC to come...

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