Friday, January 6, 2017

Big Trouble on Little Rimpoche - New Year's RPG

So, as is our tradition, Thomas and I ran a Holi-New Year's RPG game. Previously we've called it New Year's D&D, though it hasn't always fallen on New Year's. Last year, of course, we attempted to each run the same dungeon of Dortherdoreft, and the year before we each ran a D&D 5e Planescape one-shot and I belief that my (in)famous all-"hobbit" ghoul-battle adventure was also a New Year's D&D game of the distant past... So, because we foolishly try to escalate our nonsense each year, this year we decided we would attempt to run a table-top game with us as tandem GMs.

Obligatory Ancient Psychic Tandem War Elephant pic.

The thought was that we would run a 10-12 player game where we ran it simultaneously, each handling 5-6 players. We discussed (re)using and expanding a Vampire the Dark Ages one shot that Thomas had written and run that was loosely based on or a sequel of sorts to my online influence heavy Toulouse game of yore, but I pushed for Fading Suns instead, thinking that VtDA will be the game I run for my Apocalypse World group once that campaign reaches its inevitable and fiery conclusion. After considering our options, we chose a planet/plot seed from the Weird Places supplement. Spoilers for the Rimpoche section of Weird Places follow...

What Worked Well

  • Two GMs
    • By the time game day rolled around we had 9 confirmed players, but then the day of we had two cancellations due to illness and ended up with 7 players for the game. 
    • Back when we thought we had 9 players, we planned two groups of four players, with one player as a washed-out Charioteer pilot sent to Rimpoche to get sober who would have a drone to accompany the other groups and would be stuck in the middle running messages back and forth and using the ship's sensors to suss things out.
    • Then for about five minutes right before we started to run we thought that I would be the primary GM and that Thomas would portray NPCs and provide distractions as the NPC leaders but that was quickly dashed when the 7 players decided to immediately split into two groups.
    • So we each took a location and ran the scenes that centered around that location, as we had originally planned. About every hour or so we took a five minute break and whispered back and forth about what had occurred and synced up our timelines again.
  • A small scale for game locations
    • We set the game on the tiny lost world of Rimpoche, from the Weird Places supplement for Fading Suns, which, as a bonus, only has about 10 miles of terraformed terrain where people can roam without space suits. This let us say that there was a small space ship, a handful of bunkers and a crazy ancient alien gargoyle statue.
    • So even when the PCs split into two or three groups we didn't have to worry about things getting two spread out and it was definitely easier to keep track of locations than when we ran Dortherdoreft.
  • A rough timeline with room for improvisation
    • So our rough plot was the PCs were aligned with Third Republic conspirators, exploiting this secretly discovered lost world of Rimpoche for forgotten Second Republic technology. We took a hint from the Weird Places book to have "accidental tourists" show up, an Imperial Questing Knight and his Vorox bodyguard who, if they got off the planet, would blow the scheme for the Third Republic sympathizers. The tourists would crash on Rimpoche and the impact would imperil the already tenuous terraforming bubble. Here is a slightly edited copy of our timeline.
    •      0 Hour - Chitchat
           0:30pm - game start, rules explanation
           1 hour - exploration, trap to show rules
           Zack takes closer bunker
           First bunker is fake ala tomb of horror
           needs full excavation
           Tech Redeemer, Reeve, Fuck-Up, Merchant
           terraforming engine at the bottom of the bunker, clear that there is a trapdoor that lifts it up, would take up the full cargo bunker, leaving room for only 3 people’s worth of food for 15 days
           malfunctioning golem
           Thomas takes further bunker
           partially exposed
           Terraforming Expert, Archaeologist, Almalthean, Mystic
           nanobots and cannibal orgy of violence
           holo doctor or nurse
           Back at base
           Charioteer and Engineer leaders
           Ur Ruins
           al-Malik leader
           2 hour - combat challenge?
           3 hour - tourists crash, earthquake
           vorox crashes near gargoyle
           questing knight crashes further away
           Terraformer rolls to see if the quake fucked up the terraforming
           4 hour
           first tourist shows up at bunker (absent PC action)
           5 hour
           2nd tourist shows up at bunker (absent PC action)
           6 hour- wind down
           7 hour - everyone gets the hell out
    • So even though the PCs didn't split into the groups we were expecting, we had each done some lazy prep for our bunker explorations and were able to improvise while meeting back to adjust our timeline to handle the player actions.

What Didn't Work Well

  • PC Creation
    • We procrastinated on creating the PCs and then didn't do a great job giving them motivations. Even though we have both made dozens of pre-made PCs for one shots, I don't feel like we did a great job with these. We had originally intended to have three or four goals for each PC so that players could accomplish one or two, but ended up with two goals and two 'drives' for each PC, and one of the goals for each was "Stay Alive". Here's an example...
      • Survivor (Goal) – Be alive at the end of the session. You chose this instead of prison or a certain death, it would be depressing if you died on Rimpoche.
      • Get the Hell off this Rock (Goal) – You agreed to let your uncle send you here until things cooled down, but now you’ve been off Criticorum for several months and you wouldn’t have to go back there immediately (or ever, even), but you do want to go someplace where you don’t spend most of the time in a bunker listening to discussions of politics or technological mumbo jumbo.
      • Thrill Seeker (Drive) – You crave danger and adventurer, there’s a reason why you sought out duel after duel, after all.
      • Keep your head down (Drive) – You might crave more danger than the outpost on Rimpoche offers usually, but you also know that you need to avoid causing too much trouble while you’re stuck here. Now, if you could get away… well, then you just need to avoid causing so much trouble that you’d be ostracized in noble courts or hunted by a guild or the Imperial Eye.
    • As you can see the two drives are slightly contradictory, and unfortunately this wasn't the only PC I wrote up with lackluster or contradictory goals and drives.
    • Fortunately our players stepped up and gave their PCs sparks and quirks, resulting in some great player moments.
  • Wrapping Up
    • We had a time crunch at the end when our gracious hosts (who we had also talked into hosting a New Year Eve's gathering the night before) had to head out to pick up their son from the babysitter but I feel like we dithered a little and didn't force players to make decisions quickly at the end and so the last ten minutes of the game felt rushed to me.
    • I also had the Questing Knight NPC pull a grenade and threaten half the PCs as the ship took off the planet, less because it was a smart move, and more just because it would cut out a few rounds of blaster fire back and forth, something I'm not super proud of, even if it did harken back to our first Fading Suns game (or campaign) ending when a Vorox PC shoved plasma grenades into the stuffed shirt of my noble PC and our spaceship exploded as a result.


  • First a few of my own, then a few farmed from the players off of Facebook when I asked them what they enjoyed. Here are mine.
    • The Charioteer Archaeologist and Engineer Terraformer deciding that as low men on the rank totem pole they were going to run off and do their own things and not tell anyone anything about what they discovered unless forced to.
    • Seeing my improv bit about the first mound the Archaeologist and Terraformer excavated turning out to be a Chitterling nest (blind, hairless space rats, only dangerous in large groups) pay off massively later (see player highlights below).
    • Having the al-Malik noblewoman decide not to assassinate the Questing Knight quite yet several times in the hopes of bangin' him.
    • Pausing in my description of a giant and terrifying security golem (what Fading Suns refers to robots as) chasing the Archaeologist and Terraformer to hear Thomas describing to the other group how they had found some smutty space novels and a holovid of alien animal mating rituals in the other bunker.
    • The players coming up with a really clever plan to assassinate the Vorox NPC and then just shooting the Questing Knight NPC instead of luring him unsuspecting onto the hopper (think a slightly larger Mad Max style gyrocopter) and then pushing him off mid-flight.
    • Brainstorming with Thomas the ways that the Reeve's Bureaucracy, Lore (Finance) and Lore (Law) skills could be made useful. I actually included a data disk for the PCs to find that had an Human Resources roster of the Second Republic technicians that they could have used to spoof credentials to get past the Golem, but that never got to the Reeve 😢
  • From the players, their PC roles in (parenthesis). I've edited slightly to provide context and my notes are in italics.
    • (Engineer Terraformer) describing when they faced down the Golem in the terraforming bunker for the first time.
      • You open the door and see 2 red lights turn on and start to elevate and come closer.
      • Run...runrunrunrunrunrunrun
    • (Ur-Ukar Charioteer Alien Artifact Merchant/Expert)
      • So many!
      • The Engineer Second Republic tech expert perfectly executing a spin on the truck - resulting in the Vorox being catapulted into the hive of chitterlings.
      • I also enjoyed being asked by the Earl (questing knight) about the Baron (NPC leader of the al-Malik on planet), to which my response was: a gun and attempts to shoot him in the head. 
      • Said assassination attempted ended with the Ukar PC unconscious and the Reeve and al-Malik Knight PCs disarmed after they surrendered to the questing knight who frog marched them back to the base.
    • (Charioteer Archaeologist)
      • I think the movement around the house removed some of the meta-gaming (we played in an adjacent dining room and living room, so there weren't walls between the two groups but it kept things feeling separate). It allowed me to stay in character and keep secrets from the when we unleashed the golem/chitterlings...
      • I thought some of the twists were good too. Finding the golem, watching everyone get marched back, ignoring the fight to go and save the terrafroming engine... all lol-s. (The archaeologist and terraformer ignored much of the drama with the tourists and instead discovered how to fix the terraforming engine to terraform the whole planet by using the life support system of a space ship, a fact they kept from the rest of the group.)
    • (al-Malik Knight with mystic leanings, played by my wife who I bothered several times to share her favorite moment of the game with me)
      • I mean, I survived a dude's attempt to blow us out of the sky with a grenade and then murderized a dirty spy with my laser gun, that was pretty sweet. In retrospect: Glad I didn't bang that dude, he was a whole bag o' dicks.
I think, partly inspired by the (semi)-drunken game of Speakeasy we played the night before, that for new Holi-New Year's RPG, Thomas and I should finally finish and run our legendarily uncompleted convention LARP, "Ladies of the Jade Emperor's Court" or maybe just dust off our old Greek Gods LARP with its "Nookie" rules and re-run that. I'm certain that I will regret putting this in writing by November 2017.

Bonus image of the author as a teenage LARPer. Here I'm in Eskatonic Priest costume for the Fading Suns LARP that Thomas and I ran with our friend John during high school.

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