As the second episode, this one had a much different feel. Probably because it was the second time, possibly because the PCs didn't have a focused mission provided by a third party like they did for the first episode... Possibly because the focus for the episode didn't come together for me until game day itself when I realized that what I could tell everything together with the themes of "Loyalty/Dis-Loyalty" and "Do the Ends Justify the Means" which fit each of the 4 main NPCs I had that the PCs could encounter. Chatting with my RPG spiritual advisor, Thomas, he reminded me that even if the PCs failed, they could "Fail Forward", which is to say, that even the PCs failures should lead somewhere new. And the final ingredient for the stew was that I listened to The High Confessions "Along Come the Dogs" off their excellent debut album, Turning Lead Into Gold With the High Confessions and that put me in the right mood and cemented, in my mind, the mood I wanted to set.
Onward to the commentary!
- The first episode, the PCs were given a mission from the Rebellion they were splintering off from, this episode the players had to decide what their mission was. It felt like the lack of a pre-packaged mission left the players a little unfocused. They did decide that they were going to reconnoiter the Unbroken Border summit as their 'mission', but they didn't have the focus they had their first game.
- The party has lots of Faces (characters who can 'lead' or speak for the group in social situations) but no Leader or Captain who is able to broadly make decisions that the group sticks to. In the first episode, this wasn't too much of a hindrance, but in this episode it made it feel like the group was at the whim of impulsive characters who just decided to act on their own and take along any of the rest of the party who wanted to go along rather than having a strategy for the whole party.
- Once again I had the GM curse (or at least one of my GM curses) where information I made obvious seemed like a trap or red-herring and was disregarded by the players. Or perhaps I thought I was being really obvious about certain plot-points and because there were 7 players at the table that got lost in the jostling over decisions.
- One thing I do know is that I need to encourage the players to think about Company Actions in addition to their individual actions. They had a couple of good company actions at the end of the evening, where they used Espionage to trick a rival mercantile company into going after the Unbroken Border and mustered some troops, but the episode could have gone much differently if they had used Espionage or Gather Information at the start of the evening to find out more about the Unbroken Border summit they were going to spy on.
- Of the XP spent by the players that I recorded, 15 was spent on Combat skills, 9 on Social skills and 3 on Knowledge skills. The rolls the players made most often, all Sense skills. The rolls that got the players into the most trouble... all Sense rolls.
- I think because we're playing in a new Game system, with a homebrew setting that's still pretty sketchy, my players are having trouble applying Digetic Thinking (Zak S has a great post explaining this, that of course I didn't re-read until today, but it's basically a playing imagining the constraints and opportunities their character would have in the game world). I think that might be compounded by having three players coming in with a D&D perspective, expecting combat each game and balanced challenges (the one combat in the episode was designed to be imbalanced, even if it was all 7 PCs and not just 4), two players with a more WoD, Unknown Armies, Fading Suns background who are used to more scheming, investigation and politics and two players who haven't played much RPGs and/or haven't played many recently. I'll definitely use Zak's suggestion of trying to set the 'grit level' but I might also try to give the PCs more fictional reference points (like Steven Brust's excellent Taltos books) of the setting that might help them understand the kinds of things I'm imagining are possible. This reminds me that I'll need to do this with my upcoming Fadings Suns game as well.
- I was a bit surprised that the players thought a "Hail-fellow, well met" approach was the way to start talking to the slightly paranoid Ashen Kingdom army deserter NPC.
- My favorite moment of the evening was Hinrik asking the dwarven innkeeper about the possibility of 'female companionship' in a little village with three huts and a small inn.
- I had a win as a GM by remembering to give the one NPC the party attacked armor, thus allowing him to survive his encounter with them and go on to continue being an NPC out in the world for them to interact with.
- I decided to tell the Episode Summary from an NPC point of view this time because when I looked at the notes I had from this episode, there were a lot that read like this: "The rough consensus of the group is to go spy on the summit." and "Lots of discussion of what the cover story should be." As much as I dislike NPC theater, and as hard as I'm trying to not let the game devolve into that, the NPC reactions to the player actions this episode seemed to be much more interesting than the summary of the player actions.
- To their credit, the players did have some smart choices, like trying to repair the golden idol they found in the desecrated temple, but there was a lot of time spent trying to come to a decision about the next step that seemed to be solved by some of the group just deciding that they were going to go do it.
- Totally unrelated to anything, I picked out The Swans "Blood Promise (Live)" off of Swans Are Dead, as my closing credit music, but I am sad that the video for the song I found on youtube was missing the sampled intro refrain of "we're all little lambs / who've lost our way/ aaah... aaah.. aaah" that the CD version has.
- I also wonder if my players listen to the opening or closing credits music I pick out for my episode teasers or summaries as I do work to find music that encapsulates some of the feeling I want the episode to start out with and also the mood I feel the episode ended on.
- Some take-aways for the next session:
- Once again, break the PCs into different working groups. Once again, a sneaky/non-sneaky or not so sneaky dichotomy split the group.
- Provided "grit-level" and encourage Digetic thinking. Will definitely have to do a post about influences and setting inspiration for my Last Rest setting so that I can hopefully provide the players a little more context about where I'm drawing things from.
- Provide the players a choice of a more focused mission. Hopefully the information they arranged to get from Javier, the Ashen Kingdom deserter they encountered, will provide the players enough to create a focused mission for themselves.
- Encourage group thinking, either leading to more company actions or just to plans that use characters working together. The last sessions have featured a lot of "I'm doing this, you can come along if you want" kind of plans as opposed to "It would work well if you do this, and you do this and you do this..." kinds of plans. That is to say, the plans the players seem to be coming up with most are solo+ plans, where the basic plan has each character working on their own, even if they're doing the same thing, as opposed to group plans, where the plan revolves around the characters doing different things towards one goal.