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Monday, August 3, 2009

Spirit of the Century with my parents - Part 2

Report of the second session of roleplaying with my parents, using Spirit of the Century, with a Savage Worlds scenario.

We left our heroes on a trip to North Africa, Tobrouk. There they were supposed to meet a local guide who accompanied the Hunter Museum agent and would lead them to where he was seen last.

Upon arriving though, the only welcome they get is from a young taxi. The heroes don't believe he can drive his nice Peugeot and get suspicious, asking for proof. The boy does know the established password though. Thus, Alband takes the wheel and the group drives to the guide's location.

Or at least tries! Soon enough, two white cars appear, and one shot breaks the rear window. This is a pursuit!

Here I wanted to try the chase rules from Spirit of the Century. Their originality is that they put the driver in the... front seat, so to speak, and have every other ally act only as a helper: the driver picks the best roll among the PCs'.

Two things were awkward here :

My dad kept describing a bit too much compared to the rules. He would keep saying his action defeated the pursuing car, but the rolls showed only some damage was done. I can't blame him one bit though. First, it was still a "first time" with roleplaying games, and we all know one of the early mistakes as a player is to try to control too much of what happens. Second, he was just enjoying the game! The results he described simply made sense based on the action he attempted (and yes, he did succeed, just didn't do enough damage).
For this, I have to say I felt bad for even trying to explain why it didn't work. I prided myself in focusing on what my parents would find fun, but there I failed, sticking a bit too close to the rules. My parents just wanted a fun story, and if "easier/quicker" means "funnier", then that's what I should have gone with.

The other thing was the rules themselves. I was not entirely satisfied with how it went. While the driver was put forward, Alband, my dad's character, was not *that* great at driving (+2 bonus where +4 or +5 would have been the very good value). He did have an ally (Aqua) with a gun and some wit, and he could also have had another ally in the form of the young taxi, but things went well enough that I didn't feel forced to use him.
I had difficulties with how the rounds went. The driver has to decide on a driving feat to try for the round, and assign a difficulty (this was very hard for my father to do, and I tried to suggest things as much as possible). It's a game of gamble where you bet you'll do better than the pursuer (who had +0 for driving). We kept having +1 or +2 as a difficulty which was fair given Alband's skill.

What went wrong is that my dad couldn't come up with anything interesting after two rounds. He seemed really lost and I think he was getting frustrated that the run was still on. I'm still amazed at how much imagination they displayed these two evenings, but I can understand the well runs dry at some point, especially if the context doesn't change much. Help came from Aqua: as the "helper", she tried other things to slow the pursuers. She shot a jar of olive oil to make a slippy road, shot some tires and... oh yeah, predicted some road hazard (she has visions). According to the rules, though, I don't think the helpers are meant to create trouble for the driver, but it's what we did here, so my dad's roll would mean something. Jars of oil? Even though it was meant for the pursuers, the shot is too early and Alband has to avoid the oil too. The predicted road hazard also affects Alband. While it worked, it felt weird and I don't think that's what the rules intended. I don't remember the rules mentioning maneuvers from helpers either, even though it makes sense that one would drive, and another would place a "slippy street" aspect on the scene for example.

In the end, I think it would have been easier to do it as a regular battle, everyone helping everyone. I would have allowed extra actions such as shooting while driving if needed, and I would have put forward any cool driving action to make this a focus on Alband.

Finally, the two white cars have taken enough bumps from walls of market stands that they stop. The scenario suggested explosions but I wanted to keep it family friendly. It also suggested the players would go look at the wreckage... not my parents ^^;. So I had to put up a police barrage a bit further to put them back on the rails (ohhh bad, I know, but I'm a beginner too...) The point was not to have them look at the cars, but to have them arrested so the local guide (a man with relations) can get them out of jail.

I changed two things so far to tailor the scenario to my group: the taxi boy was supposed to be the driver in the chase, leaving others time to shoot and stuff. Since Alband said he wouldn't let the kid drive and I did want to have him at the center of the chase, I just went with this happily. Then, I had them arrested for all the ruckus (market day, quite a bit of damage, though not all their fault of course). But Alband, another one to have relations, didn't stay put in the cell and had a phone call to one important local guy. Of course they would be free anyway, but since he went through this trouble, I included this in the following scene where the guide only "made things a bit quicker". I hope it was enough to not steal their thunder.

Follows a long explanation of what happened with the museum agent, where he went, how they had troubles from the get-go and how he foolishly went into the desert once he got information on the whereabouts of the Lost Army (the Mc Guffin of the scenario). Of course, our heroes were not to be so hasty and needed preparations.
I first planned to stop there, but it seemed we could push a bit further, reaching a nice cliffhanger to end the session, and since everyone was go, that's what we did.

FATE not being too big on precise inventory, I just asked what kind of rather unique items they might bring with them. Alband hired a bunch of extra armed aides, bought weapons for them, and some for himself. Not sure what Aqua got anymore...

Here, the scenario has you go through the desert to reach a hidden temple. It contains the famed whereabouts of the Lost Army, key to finding our lost agent. But we didn't go there right away! My mom, during the first session, helped me find an incentive for her character's presence in this mission (she's an artist, not *really* an adventurer, even though adventure follows her): she would be looking for a rare pigment in a rocky region of the desert. So that's where we went first. I didn't want to drag things too much though, so the pigment was found and gathered easily enough. I think I had them do an Endurance roll for colors ("the sun is starting to get to you and you sweat much more than you can bear").

Finally, they reached the temple where a well was uncovered: it was the alternate entrance to the ruined temple. They went down with a rope, found a tunnel halfway down and started exploring. Lit only with a petrol lantern, they looked around old halls of stone, walls covered in hieroglyphs (which they couldn't read... oh well, just some background story missed). Once they reached a circular room, a slithering noise came from the walls: snakes! Why does it always have to be snakes?!

And that's where we stopped the session. I don't know when we will be able to continue, considering the vacation is over (it's been a week), but who knows... maybe next holidays :)

Lessons learned

Keep It Simple! Simple is fun. Still too many rules or too complex ones. Fights might not even be a good idea anymore: just roll some skills, freestyle.

Try to give some more narrating powers to my parents next time. More than once, I've seen them step forward far enough to start stepping on my GM toes. I could tell them "no" and explain how it's the GM's role and stuff, but I think it will be easier and funnier to just say "okay, tell me what happens then" and roll with it, possibly with a skill roll if it seems a bit too farfetched or controling.

Going even further than this, I'm tempted to try using Mythic to let us all play together as PCs. It might be a bit scary to them (and me), but at least it would allow us to have a truely tailored scenario. It's even more important given that the current scenario goes on in a very Mummy-esque way, with too much fantasy stuff for their taste... so Mythic would help veer this elsewhere without me having to come up with a whole new scenario on my own.

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Blogger Bluebear Jeff said...

It sounds like YOU are learning some key things about GMing. Always be open to change.

Remember that "there are many ways to get to the top of a mountain" . . . some paths may be easier than others, some faster . . . but they all can get you to the top.

By all means, do be flexible enough to "bend the scenario" (or rule set). And always keep in mind that any roleplaying scenario is a COOPERATIVE effort.

-- Jeff

August 4, 2009 at 8:53 AM  
Blogger lilledrage said...

Thanks for posting this! Don't be to hard on yourself as it was a first for all of you. One could always have done more in hindsight but in the moment you did ajust some. I like your conclusions and the reflections you have to reach them.

August 5, 2009 at 3:30 PM  
Blogger Bill Burdick said...

It sounds like they missed a roll to read the the heiroglyphics and missed out on some background story. My advice is not to make this kind of thing dependent on rolls or else to have a backup plan to reveal it in another way

One technique you can still use is a cut-scene which you could narrate at the beginning of the next session you have. That way, the players still get to learn the cool background stuff you worked so hard on. :)

Bill Burdick

August 6, 2009 at 6:03 AM  
Blogger Moni said...

@Bluebear Jeff : I can only learn things given how I'm still quite new to this business ;). Thanks for the suggestions. They fit my current mindset so I should be fine.

@lilledrage : I'm glad the post is appreciated and thanks for letting me know :)

@Bill : I have learned quite a few things about "important rolls" from Spirit of the Century. The main idea is usually not to roll if failure is a bother to the story continuity (Search roll to find the mandatory key). Yet, a roll can be done where failure only indicates complications to the mandatory action (you find the key but took so long the guards find you).
I thought about that when they reached the hieroglyphs. Problem is: none of them had any skill related to history or archeology or languages... ouch :) I still allowed a roll of Academics (the common knowledge skill) to see if they could at least somehow grasp some vague concepts (might not even be possible in reality but eh). The reason I made the roll here was to possibly give them an optional hint if the dice were nice. With no roll, it just wouldn't have made sense to say "you can read these".
Now, it's not terrible! It's not a scenario I wrote and it's nothing that will prevent them from moving on.
If anything, they will be able to learn what it said from the guy they're looking for :).
In any case, thanks for the concern and suggestions!

August 7, 2009 at 7:28 PM  

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