Saturday, December 13, 2014

Fate Core AAR: "The Saxony Jewels" One-Shot

So, wow, it's been over a year since I ran my last Fate one-shot, a scenario I found online titled "Spirit of the Tentacle." That experience had been less than satisfying for pretty much everyone involved, I think.

What has happened in the intervening year was that I wanted to put together a campaign to run, but have not had the spare time to coordinate with a group. We had also tried building characters at one time, but some of the phases I had defined were too nebulous. I finally decided to break the stalemate by writing up a one-shot adventure that takes place in the same alternate-history campaign world I had been developing, but which didn't involve any of the major players or major conflicts of the campaign.

I settled on a treasure hunt/race. The Crown Jewels of Saxony had been stolen from a museum during the California-Pacific Exposition in San Diego in 1935. The players would compete in teams to try to track down the jewels first. I built each of the characters to be a unique archetype, tightened up my approach to aspects, and wrote for each character not only a background and a unique reason to search for the jewels, but also explained the aspects and possible ways to invoke/compel them so the players could understand them better.

I had four people scheduled to show up, in two teams of two. When the scheduled night arrived, one player canceled, so we ended up playing with three, and I played the fourth PC as an NPC (well, I intended to, but tended to forget, so Kendall ended up tagging along silently, mostly doing nothing until the big final confrontation).

I did my best to switch back and forth between the teams frequently to keep everyone engaged, although sometimes I think I concentrated more on the two-player team. I tried to give everyone some interesting interactions and choices. I think it was somewhat frustrating for the players, because the sandboxy nature of the scenario made it hard to figure out where to start, and the clues to the mystery developed slowly. But the clues did develop, and I think that helped keep the players engaged.

One weird thing that happened was that the players often got really awful die rolls, while I (whose bad die rolling as a player is somewhat legendary) made consistently better ones. But smart use of skills and Aspects gave the characters some moments to shine. And as it happens, I was able to draw all the PC's to the treasure at about the same time for a final confrontation.

I'm not sure if the ending was entirely satisfactory to everyone. I had designed the characters' motivations such that, if they decided to cooperate and split the treasure, they could do that, and I think I might have railroaded them into that outcome a little bit. But they seemed to have a good time, and I had a much better time than my previous Fate running experience, so I'm happy with the outcome.

Now I'm wondering about Google+ Hangouts or maybe running a campaign on Saturday or Sunday afternoons, since my nights are taken. We'll see what happens.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Update on the Big Idea

So last post, I mentioned that the Big Idea I had a couple of months ago was progressing more slowly than I'd expected. So, a little clarification:

When I wrote that first post about the idea back in mid-September, I leaped headfirst into working on it with the idea that by this time--the week I was scheduled to take a vacation in December--I would have passed a couple of milestones and would be ready to take it to the next level by having something ready to present to potential collaborators/partners.

That didn't happen.

I realized after that first rush of creativity that what I was putting together was okay, but not particularly exciting or original. I needed to let the idea cool down a little and come back at it from a different angle, try to find a more interesting approach. After a couple of recalibrations, I think I've got something stronger and more interesting. Now I'm starting over on the writing, slowly, but I think it's more solid than those shallow initial ideas.

I won't have anything in any shape to share during my vacation this week, but I'll be burning off some excess vacation days early next year, and I may actually have something to show then.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Gaming Update: From Orion Dusk to Eddie Mendoza

I haven't posted any game-related content here for over a year, so here's the rundown.

I mentioned in a post way back in January 2013 that we were starting up a new role-playing campaign involving superheroes. I had just finished playing for over a year as Sunder, a paranoid, sometimes-insane scavenger on a post-apocalyptic alien world, and I wanted to play someone radically different. Someone happy and fun.

And so I came up with Orion Dusk, who turned out not to be happy and fun. In creating his backstory, I gave him some tragedy and trauma, which was (of course) certain to come up in the game. But what happened was that, not only did the entire game revolve around the conspiracy behind his tragedy and trauma (as well as the other members of the group), but one of the other characters in the group was the daughter of the man Orion blamed for the tragedy in his life. In addition, I somehow decided that making Orion a fugitive living under an assumed name would be a good idea. That decision added tension to several of his moments in the game, but it didn't contribute to making his character "happy and fun."

So Orion ended up being dark (and I don't just mean his skin) as well as being a bit of an asshole. And then there was the other problem.

He was kind of superfluous in the game. I had originally decided to make him a classic tank--super-strong and physically very tough--with the twist that he absorbed heat to power up. So when he powers up, there's this wave of cold that explodes out from him, and then he's super-strong and glowing and also able to release heat as a blast of energy. Sounds really cool.

Only there was another hero in the group who could change her density. When she got really dense, she was stronger and WAY tougher than Orion, so his tankness wasn't so very tanky. On the other hand, his energy blast abilities, being kind of secondary powers, weren't nearly the match of the other blasters in the group. So I decided to concentrate on some other aspects of his backstory--he had been an accountant who followed a money trail to the big conspiracy--and let him be more of an investigator.

Only there was another character in the group who was a super-miraculous hacker who did most of the actual investigating. And hell, even the other tank had for some reason bought a higher accounting skill than my character WHO WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A PROFESSIONAL ACCOUNTANT!

Every character needs a niche, and Orion's niche was being worse than somebody else in the group at absolutely everything. He got some moments to shine, based on some spectacular die rolls, but he was never a go-to guy for anything. He was just there, being an asshole.

The game lasted for over a year, and as it seemed as if it was approaching the climax, some personal shit happened and the game broke up. And I wasn't particularly heartbroken about it, as I had been getting kind of burned out on Orion. So much so that I wasn't sure I really wanted to get in on the new game that Sargon was starting, a closer-to-our-time-period game of monster hunters set in the West Coast city of Wraithport. I had kind of been enjoying the break and having my Tuesday evenings free.

But it sounded intriguing, so I made up a provisional character, a Kolchak-type reporter specializing in news of the weird--Eddie Mendoza, Freelance Seeker of the Strange. I sat in on the first session, kind of halfway thinking that Eddie could be a guest star in the pilot episode, get his one story and be on his way.

That was six months ago, and now I'm having a blast. The game is fun, the group character dynamic is way different, and Eddie has his niche. He is the only character in the group without magical powers, but he is a crack shot with a magic pistol he picked up off the dead body of a demon hunter and he uses his journalistic know-how to investigate leads on new monsters to battle while trying to track down an even larger menace lurking in the background.

Inspired by Naamah (who did it first), I've even been writing a journal in Eddie's voice, keeping track of our adventures. It's almost up to 50 pages now. I'm kind of embarrassed to say it's the only real creative writing I've been doing for over a year now (the big project I hinted at last time is building more slowly than I'd like, though I still work on it; the long percolation time will be good for it, though, I think).

And I'm gearing up to run another one-shot Fate adventure next week, over a year after my last attempt. We'll see how that goes.