So I had the opportunity to play another game of Finding Haven with three excellent role players. I’m doing this write-up here not so much for purposes of game design feedback, but more to focus on my decisions as a GM (in Finding Haven, that stands for General Manager), including the details of prepping situation, and how one scene flows into the next. I’m interested in any analysis of how I/we did those things, as well as alternative ways of doing them.
So, first came the GM portion of prepping the situation. I’d already played several scenarios of the mutiny-in-space type, so I wanted to do something different this time. My plan was to do an earth-based game, to contrast with the space-faring ones; the one I had in mind was where the players would try to rescue a comrade from a Thought Therapy Re-education center.
But when the time came to do the actual prep, I kept finding myself thinking about being on a spaceship. I was still really in the mood for a space adventure. I also found myself going more in the direction of what the big megacorporations might have up their sleeves, rather than focusing on the alien threat directly.
The thought of the players receiving a distress call kept popping up in my mind, reminiscent of the old Traveler days I guess. But I didn’t want it to be a simple trap, like: some pirates are sending a distress call just to lure unsuspecting people in. That would be kind of boring, and that kind of situation doesn’t have quite enough meat to it, in my opinion.
So I got my pencil out and started sketching and free associating. I drew a distress call, had some pirates in there, and then I found myself focusing on the ship that was actually in distress. I have a habit in this kind of process of asking myself questions and writing down the first thing that comes to mind, with no evaluation or censorship. OK, I asked myself, so why was it in distress?
Because someone sabotaged the engines, in a tricky way so the damage isn’t immediately obvious. Why did they sabotage the engines? Because they were horribly mutated, and no longer wanted to go where the ship was headed. How did they get mutated? Well, several of the megacorporations were doing advanced biotech-type research, and one of these projects involved developing a rejuvenation technique (which had not been perfected yet). Materials and instruments for further research on this technique were being shipped to the laboratory facility on Titan on this vessel.
Why would this person – I roll up the name MRV, so “Marv” – be so desperate he’d try this risky procedure on himself? Perhaps because he’s 39 years old, and this is his last trip before he has to enter the Culling grounds. If the procedure worked, he’d look years younger, and it could make his physical features malleable, so that he could grow a whole new face. That way, he could adopt a new identity and avoid the Culling.
Unfortunately, the experiment doesn’t work out, and his face becomes *too* malleable – he turns into a faceless horror: where his face used to be, is either featureless flesh, or flesh that seems to ripple and bubble.
All right, so that sounds pretty bad. Now, why doesn’t he want to go to Titan? Well, because once there, he’d be imprisoned and experimented on. So he wants to either redirect the ship he’s on to another location, or escape the ship entirely onto another.
Now a further complication comes to mind: the rejuvenation process affects a primitive part of the body, analogous to the regenerating process of salamanders. This has altered Marv to the point where he “splits” every few hours – he basically reproduces asexually, producing a duplicate of himself. He’s done this twice so far, so there’s three of him onboard. Further, the reptile part of his brain has been stimulated to where his desire to reproduce is very strong; the words “make more! More!” echo in his consciousness. He’s also extra strong, and can survive for some period of time in vacuum.
Ok. So what’s the ship called, and who else is aboard? I come up with the name The Agamemnon, commanded by Captain SPNZ, or “Spinoza”. The physician is HLC, who secretly helped Marv with the experimental treatment. Engineer SNG is resentful of the Captain and wants the ship for himself. The gene-altering treatment is developed and owned by Genomorph Technologies, who also own this ship.
I want to add in another feature, namely that the ship’s present course will take it into a particularly thick section of Saturn’s rings. The chance that the ship will take some significant damage from this is high. This adds some urgency, a time factor, to their predicament.
Ok, so there’s conflict between Marv and the rest of the crew, but I want to add another major player into the situation, someone with different, opposed goals to those already stated. What makes sense? Corporate espionage works. So, suppose Nomsamto corporation found out about this gene-altering tech, and hires a pirate ship to steal it from The Agamemnon. I come up with the name Steel Aurora for the pirate ship, commanded by captain Hobbes. Hobbes is vicious, but she has an XO who has humane tendencies, fancies himself more of a rebel than a pirate. The Steel Aurora has been accelerating towards The Agamemnon for some time, and will arrive within about 14 hours.
So I’m pretty satisfied with that; the situation is volatile, with plenty of conflict already happening. Now, how to get the players in on it? Well, I figure I need an opening scene that will quickly get the players up to speed on what’s at stake. So, they’re in space, and their ship receives the distress call from the Agamemnon.
Now, if they’re just crew members aboard a bigger ship, their ability to choose whether or not to respond, and how to respond, is limited. I could of course have the captain be an NPC, and simply order them to board the Agamemnon. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with this, but it just felt bad to me – I wanted to give the players a bit more influence. So that suggested to me that the PCs were all partners and owned their own ship. It would be a small mining ship, making money by extracting minerals from asteroids or moons, or shipping ice from the outer planets to stations on the belt, like Ceres, Pallas, etc. Here’s the summary I give the players:
“You and your fellow players collectively own the small mining vessel The Whitestar; you owe money for the ship to Cyberdrake Systems, but you’ve managed to make your payments on time – except for this month; you’re late.
“You make your money by mining asteroids or small moons, like from Saturn’s rings. The ore is worth good money, and water is among the most precious commodities. Sometimes, when things aren’t working out, you’ll grab ice from Enceladus and sell it to one of the settlements in the asteroid belt, usually Ceres or Pallas.
“You’ve had a spot of bad luck: one of your laser drills broke, which slowed down mineral extraction, and on top of that once you’d gathered a good haul you caught the attention of pirates. You narrowly escaped, but had to dump your cargo to do it.
“You know that if you don’t pay soon, Cyberdrake is likely to send some Collectors after you – and they’re known for getting their pound of flesh, often quite literally.
“After some discussion, you’ve decided to just grab some ice from Enceladus, head for the asteroid belt, and hope for the best. But as you’re approaching Saturn, you start receiving a distress signal:
“To any nearby ships, this is Captain Spinoza of the Agamemnon. Our engines are down and we are adrift without power. Can you assist us? Our current coordinates follow. Message repeats.”
“They’re not that far from your present position. This is a big opportunity; if you help them, they’ll owe you something, maybe enough to make your payment to Cyberdrake, and potentially a lot more if you just take what you want (but do you really want to be pirates?). You’re even obligated to help, according to World Management, but this situation is not without risk. After all, who else is out there?”
This setup I figure will give the players strong incentive to want to check out the Agamemnon. The possibility exists that they might choose otherwise, but I’m not too worried about it: I’ll just check in with what the various NPCs are doing, make a few rolls, and go from there – same as if they did anything else.
The PCs consist of (summarizing a lot): Zirkus (security officer whose Goal is “I want the truth!”), PJ (pilot whose goal is “I want love!”), and Qwim, the communications officer who wants vengeance. They also have a few NPC crew aboard.
When play begins, the players are immediately concerned that the distress signal could be some kind of a trap. After some discussion, they decide to cautiously approach. They open a communications channel with Captain Spinoza, who informs them that they’ve lost power and don’t know why, and are headed straight into a dense portion of Saturn’s rings unless they can change course.
The players mull this over, and decide that the risk is worth it: Zirkus and their NPC engineer will take a shuttle over to the Agamemnon, check things out and see what they can do. They’ll keep a communications link open to the Whitestar throughout.
Now I don’t say anything out loud, but at this point I’m thinking, “oh oh, they’re splitting up. Will the ones staying behind have anything to do? Will they be bored?” I’m a bit nervous here, wondering if I should change anything that I prepped in order to give the folks on the Whitestar more to do. I decide not to, and just to make a habit of checking in with their players to see how they’re doing.
Zirkus and QZY (“Queezy”, the NPC engineer) dock and are met by SNG “Sing”, the Agamemnon’s engineer. He gruffly greets them and leads them to the engine room. The center of the ship has zero gravity (it spins to provide centrifugal force, so the highest simulated gravity is on the outer diameter), so they proceed using a combination of rungs and zero-g maneuvering.
Once in the engine room, Sing explains they’re currently running on emergency batteries, and he can’t figure out why he can’t get power from the engines to the rest of the ship, and why the controls are unresponsive. Zirkus and Queezy chip in to try to figure it out. I make this a roll for Zirkus’ player, with bonus dice for help from the two NPCs. He gets a success with no drawbacks, so I let him know a power line in a hard-to-access spot has been cut, clearly indicating sabotage. It will take some time to install a new power line but they should be able to do it, hopefully before entering the rings. Queezy and Sing get to work, while Zirkus goes back to the central corridor, wanting to consult the Captain about the sabotage.
Now I check in with my NPCs. Spinoza is on the bridge monitoring communications, and worrying about whether the newcomers can be trusted. The Steel Aurora is still on its way, no changes. The main issue is Marv. There are currently 3 versions of him in different positions throughout the ship. The one nearest the airlock – let’s call him Marv1 – is aware that a shuttle has docked, and is making his way down towards the central corridor. So, the next scene will be Zirkus encountering him there.
I say that, as Zirkus is making his way to the bridge, he sees a figure emerge from a doorway ahead of him. He sees the man from the back at first. As he gets closer, the man turns around, revealing himself to be a faceless horror. Zirkus is shocked.
Marv1 reacts aggressively. He doesn’t want Zirkus to warn anyone, so he launches at Zirkus. Zirkus tries to get away using his stun rod as a weapon, but fails. His weapon goes spinning off down the corridor, and Marv1 grapples him. As they tumble through the air, Marv1 mumbles about how he must “make more,” which concerns Zirkus.
PJ and Qwim hear this and are worried but don’t know what to do. I check in with my NPCs: Marv2 hears something and starts heading down to investigate, Marv3 and everyone else don’t know anything. Marv1 wants to beat Zirkus unconscious or kidnap him.
So, Marv1 and Zirkus keep fighting; Zirkus gets hurt but manages to push bubbleface off and make it to the bridge. As the door irises shut behind him, Marv1 starts pounding on it.
Zirkus brings Spinoza up to speed, who shakes his head. He suspects what happened, and contacts doctor HLC, who blows him off (she would never admit to anything). Zirkus discusses the situation with PJ and Qwim, and figure the best strategy is to focus on getting the engines back on line; there’s no need to confront Marv1 directly at this point.
This calls for a roll to repair the engines. I feel a little weird about this, since none of the PCs is directly trying to fix them, so how does a roll make sense? However fixing the sabotaged engines is a major task IMO, and requires a couple of successes. I have a player roll, with a bonus for the NPC helping. IIRC, PJ or Qwim got in on the action by providing guidance to Queezy, which means they made a successful roll to create a beneficial condition (gives a bonus die to anyone able to make use of it). Anyway the roll is successful so they make good progress on the repairs. Zirkus heads back to the engine room to help more directly.
So now I turn my attention to Marv1. If he wanted to break in, he could try using a laser drill or something like that. But, his main goal is to leave, not to attack, especially since Zirkus has already spilled the beans at this point. So what does he do? He knows Zirkus just recently arrived from another ship, so he starts checking the airlocks. Well, he quickly finds the Whitestar shuttle docked to an airlock, and empty; so he goes aboard and starts detaching the vessel from the Agamemnon. I tell the players the shuttle is leaving.
Also, I figure the Steel Aurora should probably appear on the Whitestar’s sensors, since it’s only a few hours out at this point. I mention this to Qwim’s player, who is concerned. The players start rapidly discussing what to do.
Meanwhile, out of sight of the players, Marv2 realizes something is up, and also checks the airlocks. He’s upset that he’s missed the shuttle, but is able to get to a scanner and realizes a ship is out there. He exits an airlock, relying on his ability to survive in space for short periods of time, and launches himself towards the Whitestar.
Qwim calls Marv1 on the shuttle, but Marv1 isn’t in much of a mood to negotiate. He’s got a ship, however small, and is headed away from Titan, which is good enough for him. Still, Qwim tries to persuade him to relinquish control of the shuttle, but the roll fails. Marv1 starts heading away from them at renewed speed.
I let Qwim know that the new ship on their sensors is clearly on an intercept course. PJ maneuvers the Whitestar so the Agamemnon is between them and the approaching vessel.
At this point Marv2 has reached the Whitestar, and I tell the players they hear a thump on the hull of their ship. Activating external ship’s cameras, they see a faceless man on the hull, making his way to an airlock. The players are confused and worried – “wait, so who’s in the shuttle?”
One or more of the players ask if they have the ability to pilot the shuttle remotely. I hadn’t thought of this, but given the level of technology in the setting, it made sense that this would be a common feature. I tell them yes, but the person on board will try to disrupt it. They make a successful roll and gain control of the shuttle.
Now PJ wants to remotely pilot the shuttle so that it crashes into Marv2 and scrapes him off the hull. I think this is a creative and clever idea, but tell him it’s going to be a tricky maneuver. He makes the roll, but with a drawback. I say he’s successful in scraping Marv2 off – he’s now basically a pulp in space. But the shuttle hits the Whitestar too hard, breaching the hull. The Whitestar starts spinning out of control as atmosphere ejects from the breach, and the shuttle starts spinning away too.
Meanwhile, as the Agamemnon draws ever closer to the ring, Zirkus et al are desperately trying to fix the engines. I call for a roll, and the player makes it but with a drawback – the engines are fixed but he takes damage from an electrical discharge. The engines are back online, and the ship has power.
A player makes a successful roll to fix the hull breach, and they contact the approaching ship to see what they want – maybe they’re just answering the distress call. The conversation with Captain Hobbes is polite, and she insists she’s just coming to check on the Agamemnon for humanitarian reasons, but it’s pretty obvious she’s a pirate.
The players discuss whether they want to fight or run, and (partly because it’s getting late in the evening for a couple of players) they decide to flee, through the rings using the distortion and cover they provide to escape. I ask for one final roll, which succeeds. They’re on their way to Titan, Zirkus still aboard the Agamemnon and discussing appropriate remuneration for their assistance.
Unfortunately, they’ve lost the shuttle, which the Steel Aurora will certainly pick up, as well as Marv1. You may have noticed that Marv3 is still aboard the Agamemnon, but no one knows that. If this were part of an ongoing series of games, these things would play a role in the next session.
Overall, as GM I quite enjoyed myself. I was concerned that some of the players had little to do for extended periods, and I worried that the situation might be a little too complex, as a couple of times people seemed to freeze in place for a bit before responding.
Anyway, I’m interested in any analysis y’all might have as far as my GMing reasoning went. Any different or useful approaches to thinking about any of this? Including the prep.
As far as game mechanics go, I was happy with the results of the rolls – I liked the fact that people sometimes got successes with drawbacks, and the drawbacks were fairly easy to add, unlike in some of the AW games. On the other hand, no one got really damaged enough by conditions to be really worried, and their beliefs and drives weren’t threatened that much. It might be that this will happen over time over a series of games, like the Mountain Witch, and that’s ok. I guess that’s what playtesting is for.
Another doubt I have is about the process of determining the dice to add to rolls; players get to add dice for positive conditions when they’re relevant, for example a PC is trying to hold onto something during explosive decompression, and they get to add a die because their character is strong. In play this seemed to slow things down a bit as players mulled over what conditions they could use. I’m not sure how much of an issue this is. More playtesting, I guess.
Finally, a deeply heartfelt thanks to the wonderful players who participated! Please do fill in any gaps I’ve forgotten, and add your perspectives on the game session in the comments.
18 responses to “Another Game of Finding Haven”
Dice successes and failures
My one question about the session concerns the outcomes of rolls. Do I understand correctly that there were no failed rolls? I only see successes and successes with drawbacks. If I am missing any or if you didn't mention them, what were they?
I'm not asking from a design perspective, so much as from a play one. What are failed rolls in the play experience, so far? What do they do, distinctively? What is it like to be a player going into a roll?
Hi Ron, great question. IIRC, there were only a couple of complete failures. The first one I mentioned is when Marv1 attacked Zirkus; Zirkus lost his weapon and wound up grappled as a result of the failed roll. There's another one I just remembered, the players tried to remotely pilot the shuttle to crash into the pirate ship, but failed. PJ took damage to his Drive (now has doubts about his pilot ability), and they lost control of the shuttle as a result.
Failed rolls always mean taking damage to the character (it may not be physical damage, it can be on their beliefs or relationships), and of course have fictional consequences unfavorable to the PC.
As to what it's like to be a player going into a roll, I'd love to say but haven't yet been a player in this game, so I can only guess. I'd love if any of the recent players can chip in with their perspective.
Also, damage taken eventually
Also, damage taken eventually results in consequences such as losing all empathy or drive (and become an NPC, IIRC like losing humanity in Sorcerer), or dying of damage is to health.
I’m going to press a little
I'm going to press a little hard on those two instances. I hope this is OK – and I think, too, that this topic will tie into your more general concerns about preparation.
This is more than ok, it’s
This is more than ok, it’s exactly the kind of analysis I wanted.
“Are you sure that you don't GM failed rolls as "success with drawback?””
Ooh, good question! I think I do have that tendency. In general I tend to be too “nice”.
“In that language, arrow #4 should begin with the character actually grappled and not able to escape, or placed somewhere due to the grapple that they could not break. To me it looks like one of those bullshit "conditions" I'm seeing everywhere, which fictionally seem to last for a split second.”
Yep, it was a condition. He was grappled, which meant he couldn’t do much other than try to escape from the grapple, which would incur a penalty die.
“You say that Zirkus was able to "push bubbleface off and make it to the bridge" – how? Was that another roll? Did being grappled affect the chance for success at that roll?”
Yes, it was another roll, and he had a penalty die to escape from being grappled. Perhaps one penalty die wasn’t a serious enough consequence?
“If not, in terms of the fictional content of those arrows (not the damage mechanics), did the failure to avoid being grappled do anything?”
In terms of fictional content, there were no *lasting* consequences beyond the initial struggle. The grappled condition was a relatively easy one to get out of with a successful roll, so it only had a temporary effect. If he’d failed another roll in the fight with bubbleface, things would have gone worse for him – he’d basically have been captured and questioned, and Marv1 would have taken off with him in the shuttle, is what I’m thinking.
Are you thinking that, in this case, the grappled condition was bullshit because he could get out of it in one roll (so too easy, no lasting consequences), or that it was BS because it was too easy to succeed at rolls in general?
“The main post describes the shuttle crash as a success with drawback: yes, scraping the Marv off the hull, but losing control of the shuttle. In the reply here you say it was a failed roll. Was there another roll the main post didn't mention?”
Yes, when I wrote the initial post I think I forgot a roll and conflated two of them. There was a roll where the players tried to remotely crash the shuttle into the pirate ship; this roll failed, so they lost control of the shuttle, and the pilot (PJ) took damage to his drive.
Some of these questions turn
Some of these questions turn into design issues and I don't want to go there. There's a deeper issue at work in terms of play which I don't know if I can manage to expose to you. Maybe this phrasing will help: when the dice come up with a result associated with the lower probability, especially if it's much lower, do you experience it as play as such "not working?" Because that's what your reply looks like to me: as if you're saying, well, if I have a high chance, then it should work, and if I have a low chance, it shouldn't.
Let's talk about your response regarding the grapple: whether I think it should have a higher penalty for the escape roll. That's not going to do a damn thing. Do you see that I could rack on penalty dice until the chance of escape is 0.001% and the same issue still applies? They're dice! They roll anything in their range! The probabilities are real but by definition you will see the low-probability results crop up now and again. That suggestion merely kicks what I'm talking about, as a can, down the road.
I don't know what to tell you. They're dice (or cards, or whatever, any randomizing instrument). They should always be regarded as capable of any result in their range. The issue isn't how to make the probability so low that it can be perceived as never happening, or so high that it can be perceived as reliable. The issue is the result of a roll, whether it has fictional impact or not. Are you grappled? If so, then whatever results from being grappled should apply – not merely a do-over roll to see if you're really grappled, low chance or not. That's very fine-grained for this game, markedly so compared to any other roll you described. Zooming in like that is, I think, a reflexive attempt based on you not wanting to do what the Marv would have actually done with a successfully-grappled foe.
I'll continue to be blunt: I don't think you like it when "I have a good chance" rolls fail, and you may even see it as derailing play as such. The system went wrong, it didn't work, it's not fun, etc. As a player, it flattens your interest in play at all. As a GM, it triggers your need to fix it or soften it or get things back on track. It feels like the dice screwed you out of playing well, i.e., you achieved a high probability, so the dice should reward you.
Let's say such a roll fails. If the resulting play seems weird or off to you, or – crucially, here – requires compensation in terms of a forgiving narration or no actual consequence of its own (i.e., a repeat to see if you're "really" grabbed), then something is very wrong with using them for this action or event in the first place. The only solution to perceiving randomizing instruments as capable of derailing or messing up play is not to use them in that way, or for that thing.
OK, let me try to sort this
OK, let me try to sort this out so we’re talking about the same thing. There seem to be multiple issues:
(1) the effect of dice mechanics, particularly probabilities, on play;
(2) the effect a failed roll should have on the fiction;
(3) the effect a failed roll should have on the character, fictionally and mechanically;
(4) my own personal foibles as regards bringing negative consequences on PCs when I’m GMing.
If I get where you’re coming from, you’re mostly talking about (3) and (4) – which is great, I just want to be clear about it.
Alright, you wrote: “Maybe this phrasing will help: when the dice come up with a result associated with the lower probability, especially if it's much lower, do you experience it as play as such "not working?"”
No, not at all, in fact generally those results are more exciting.
“Because that's what your reply looks like to me: as if you're saying, well, if I have a high chance, then it should work, and if I have a low chance, it shouldn't.”
At first I was at a loss how I might give that impression, but I’m guessing you got that from all my questions about whether the grappling should have another penalty die and so on.
No, I have no expectations about any one particular roll. What I do want is that over many dice rolls, the distribution of the results will fall in a way that produces the effect on play that I’m going for.
You mentioned that in many games conditions are often BS and don’t do anything. So I figured one way to make a condition more robust, more consequential, is to have it more difficult to get out of, which is where penalty dice came in. But that’s not your main point here, it looks like.
“The issue isn't how to make the probability so low that it can be perceived as never happening, or so high that it can be perceived as reliable. The issue is the result of a roll, whether it has fictional impact or not. Are you grappled? If so, then whatever results from being grappled should apply – not merely a do-over roll to see if you're really grappled, low chance or not. That's very fine-grained for this game, markedly so compared to any other roll you described.”
I’m a bit confused here tbh. I mean, in general when you’re grappled you really can’t do much other than trying to escape from the grapple, or call for help and so on, and trying to escape comes at a penalty. So what else should apply? I’m genuinely not getting it.
Now when you mention it’s fine-grained compared to other rolls, that’s true – I meant combat to be that way, not as fine-grained as D&D but more so than the Pool or Trollbabe. PCs can take only a certain number of conditions before being taken out, but until then they’re still in the fight.
I want to mention that if Marv1 wanted to simply kill Zirkus, and the player failed the roll to avoid the attack, he would have taken damage like a blow to the head or the like, which could not be fixed as quickly or easily. “Grappled” is much easier to get out of than “concussed”; for the latter it would take a visit to medbay and a roll (which could fail, causing another condition), so during the fight you’re stuck with it.
“I'll continue to be blunt: I don't think you like it when "I have a good chance" rolls fail, and you may even see it as derailing play as such. The system went wrong, it didn't work, it's not fun, etc. As a player, it flattens your interest in play at all. As a GM, it triggers your need to fix it or soften it or get things back on track. It feels like the dice screwed you out of playing well, i.e., you achieved a high probability, so the dice should reward you.”
My first reaction is no, that’s a misinterpretation of our Pool discussion and not actually what’s going on. But I’m going to consider what you wrote here seriously, and take my time mulling it over.
As to your last paragraph in your comment above about when dice shouldn’t be used, I get it and am sure you’re correct.
It’s not a big deal to
It's not a big deal to resolve here. I may be off the beam in any number of ways. As long as you're thinking about what failed results are, and whether they're different from success-with-conditions, that's as much as I can hope to contribute. We might talk about the grappling some other time because it's probably a clump of weeds relative to that.
Methods of Prep?
One thing I wanted to mention, is I'm interested in hearing how people prep for games when they're GMing. I went into my process for this particular session not because I particularly recommend it, but in the spirit of breaking things down so we can analyze it – and perhaps come up with different ways of doing things. I know Ron has many specific suggestions in his games which are great; I'm interested in knowing how you prep, for games you enjoy running.
I played Qwim (the communications officer) in this game. The game was new to me, and so was the group (I played another game earlier that week for the first time with one of the players). For me, these were factors in play that may have contributed to the GM's note about players freezing. In other words, I was learning how to use the tools in the game creatively to solve the problems at hand. There is a lot of latitude in building dice pools in Finding Haven, so it took a few attempts to see what worked and what didn't.
Another gap in the learning curve was figuring out what was possible technologically, which was essential to playing a communications officer. The GM handled this very well using The Expanse novels/series as an example of the technology level. So that helped me a lot in determining what I could do and how I could do it. So once we jumped these hurdles, the game started to click for me.
Regarding failed dice rolls, I failed quite a few in recollection, but I didn't incur many conditions. I also played a little bit conservatively, so I didn't get a sense of how much things can hurt. In particular, I didn't start using Risk dice until near the end of the session. If I were to do it again, I'd start gambling harder earlier on.
However, something that hurt the character (as in being Scar worthy) was a scene near the end of the session. The ship's hull was breached and it was a life-threatening situation for the crew (compounded by other factors that tied up the rest of the crew). Qwim volunteered to go fix the hull breach. Not only was this dangerous, but it was also a bit of "I didn't sign up for this shit" for the character — who wanted to solve every problem from their communications station.
An additional note I wanted to add is that the tone of the game was quite humorous. I enjoyed having a laugh with a new group of people and that says something about how comfortable I felt playing the game. It didn't detract from the game at all in my opinion as most of the jokes were related to things that were happening in the game and the absurdity of the situation.
Thanks for the comments,
Thanks for the comments, David! I really appreciate it.
One point I'd like to clarify: when you say that scene hurt the character, do you mean that it hurt your concept of the character, like you no longer wanted to play the character afterwards? Or more just that the character had some consequences from it, and that's ok?
One point I’d like to clarify
It was the latter… the character experienced some consequences. It told me something about the character that I didn't know, making them more playable. So it was positive.
Hi Manu, you've asked for comments on GM prep. From your example I see several stages that you go through: 1) create a situation — where will it happen. That started when you settled on the hook of the distress signal and the time pressure of approaching pirates. 2) why is the ship in distress? This identifies the key problem — your mutated NPC and his objectives. 3) detailing other NPCs — the ship crew — and their default attitudes. 4) Complications: who else has intense drive to get something out of the situation.
You used brainstorming and asking yourself questions to come up with the answers.
I use a similar process when I prepare as GM. I refer you to the post I made about James Bond 007 actual play at https://adeptplay.com/actual-play/paris-lift-james-bond-007-actual-play I did not really detail my thought process in preparing the game, so I'll say something about it here.
The setting is the cold war and I wanted a gritty mission — drawn from the feel of the books by Fleming, which aren't the flashy stuff of the Bond movies, and also the TV show The Sandbaggers. So I chose a simple problem: a scientist hiding in Paris has contacted the British Embassy and offered secret blueprints in return for asylum. In keeping with the Bond genre though, I decided he was fleeing a private entity rather than a government, so I used the JB007 game book's random table for inspiration and got Stromberg. That villain comes complete with an overall background and obsessive grand plan.
I decided Stromberg had hired an assassin to kill the scientist. I also decided Stromberg had hired a detective to track down the Scientist and point the assassin at him.
Because our scientist fears for his life, he is using an intermediary. After thoughts of ex-wives and such, I settled on a sister.
Somewhere in here, I also realized I needed extra pressure — another complication — so I made the scientist and his sister refugees from East Germany, with the STASI wanting to repatriate the scientist and his knowledge.
This spawned a collection of NPCs, each with motives and objectives: the scientist wanting to stay alive and get out; his sister wanting to help but worried about getting caught herself; the Stromberg detective wanting to get Stromberg's bounty for the locating the scientist; the assassin aiming to kill; the STASI aiming to kidnap. All of them investigating and shadowing at first, then later taking action.
You might also find my summary of The Now between sessions interesting. I just that as a time to summarize what all the NPCs know and what they will do based on that knowledge and their objectives.
In play I made a point of using the rules to determine the success of enemy action, so I had to restrain my desire to have something happen to make the story more exciting.
To summarize what my general process for GM preparation it's:
1) create a situation with something that players will want to get involved with.
2) create NPCs who are logical parts of the situation.
3) create strong motivations and objectives for the NPCs, some of which conflict with the player's interests. Essentially, I have a main opponent or problem, then add a second opposition with the potential to work against both the main opposition and the players.
Thank you so much for this
Thank you so much for this level of detail in your comment! I really appreciate it. Regarding your (3), I also use the idea of adding a second opposition. It really seems to flesh things out quite a lot, although it's difficult for me to say why. It's not that common a feature of popular fiction, not ubiquitous anyway. I wonder why it works for rpg prep?
Prep and a question
"Argh" is today's word of the day for me, Manu! I'd intended to tag you into this post about Runequest, from the angle of prep. I completely missed it on my "pre-launch checklist." I think that's a good post for thinking about possibilities for prepping character-heavy, backstory-heavy longform play (and also for thinking about inventing prep procedures where they're not really provided by the text).
One question I had about your prep for this Finding Haven game – Did you have maps of the Agamemnon and the Whitestar? Or is the layout of spaceships so in-your-bones from years of reading sci fi that you don't need one?
I ask because at least one critical event (Zirkus encountering Marv1 in the central corridor) was predicated on knowing exactly where the characters were and the point where their paths would cross.
Hi Noah! Thanks for the
Hi Noah! Thanks for the reference to the RQ game, and apologies for this late reply. Regarding maps of the ships, I have illustrations but they're not finely-detailed. Marv1 knew someone new was aboard, and there's only one central corridor that lets you get between rings, so precise locations didn't seem that critical to me. Perhaps that was a mistake, but a certain level of detail I just hand-wave away 🙂
Prepping for The Pool in Amherst MA
Hey Manu, thought I would reply with some of my thoughts on prepping for The Pool, and describe my most recent process.
First off, I want to say this: you can prep for The Pool in a bunch of different ways. You could begin with a couple statements or images, receive characters, and then prep starting from their stories. I did this for a previous game of The Pool. This time, however, I did it differently—I created a situation before seeing the characters, and once I had the characters in hand, I tweaked the situation to add the characters to the constellation of characters/places I had already created.
So, here is how I created the situation. First thing was to provide Noah and his friend with a pitch for the setting that was full of potential energy, which I will add here:
The Grim Hand of the Wretched God swings low upon the Pioneer Valley… Amidst communities of affluent queers and DIY musicians, a torrent of strange drugs is unleashed! The drugs have a multitude of weird and frightening effects! Some of the users are turning to worship of the Wretched God… Some of the users are turning into different beings all together! Its nearing Christmas time, and things are getting Weird. Characters ought to be connected to the mentioned communities in some way, whether by: 1. being a member of these communities 2. being on the outskirts of them (maybe a poor person trying to fit in, etc.) 3. not in the communities but connected with the stuff going on in some way
While Noah and his friend worked on characters from that pitch, I created a situation off of it.
My biggest goal was for the situation to be full of uncertainty. I wanted to push for more and more uncertainty with each character I introduced. Rather than thinking of problem people and good people or anything of the sort, I wanted to think up an array of characters with such varying goals and varying degrees of power and influence that I would have no idea where things were going to end up going.
To realize this goal, I picked a local person who would be the Wretched God’s prophet (specifically for the Western MA area). Because of my pitch saying that the Wretched God was targeting local diy musicians and other weirdoes, I decided that the prophet would be a local real estate developer who allows younger people to host house shows at his large barn on his compound. The most famous band from the area would be his most trusted recruits, and I thought of multiple different people who were either being recruited into the cult, who had fled from it, etc. In total I came up with around 5 or 6 characters for this.
Another part of working towards uncertainty is the nature of the god and the things followers are expected to do–this is a god of swarms and conformity, and followers are expected to turn a blind eye to abuse and cut off people who speak out against it. There are, of course, some other even creepier biological effects of exposure to the god.
Then, once I had the PCs in hand, I made sure that I put them into the situation in a meaningful way. Noah’s character’s best friend was getting closer with the inner circle of the Wretched God worshippers, so I made sure to consider the kind of relationships she had with them. Noah’s friend’s character was a little tougher—although she was kind of connected with the local scene, she was in hiding after fleeing from a life of pop stardom. But she had a dying mother, and so I decided that her mother was being “treated” by a weirdo called Parsley, who (spoilers) works for the prophet, who uses the corpses of dead and forgotten hospice patients for various evil sorcerous things.
I also decided that I would hard frame them into a show at the compound I mentioned, with the main act being Wretched Lamb, which is composed of Wretched God worshippers looking to recruit new members (in play I fucked up the hard framing by doing some bullshit naturalism thing where I asked what they were up to that day and told them they got texts from people inviting them to the show, before realizing what I was doing and just stating "I'm going to frame you into the show").
I hope this was helpful. I'll probably make a post about this game at some point soon if I have time.
Hi Sam! Thanks so much for
Hi Sam! Thanks so much for this comment. I'm very interested in your process and how the game went for you. It sounds like you prepped a whole bunch of NPCs, all with diverse goals. How did this work for you in play? Was it difficult to keep them all straight?