Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Great And Terrible Engine

Notice: This posting is about the first session of an RPG game for personal use based on the copyrighted works of Cherie Priest. The caveat from the previous post continues to apply, namely that I will continue to avoid revealing plot points from the story, instead focusing this post on the gameplay itself. If you enjoy these Actual Play posts, perhaps you should think of picking up Dreadnought or Boneshaker by Cherie Priest from your local book store, or at any number of locations online.

I arrived my local gaming store early to allow me to set out my bits and pieces, as well as giving me a few minutes to relax and center myself before the players showed up. I chose not to lay out the train in advance, as some of the characters would only just be arriving to the station. I left the character sheets face down in the center of the table, and placed the adventure notes to one side at the head of the table, where I would be sitting.

Once the players arrived, we chatted for a bit and I gave them my best "FATE 3.0 in a nutshell" speech. Of the four players, one has read Spirit of the Century, Starblazer Adventures and Diaspora, but has never played or GMed a game using the system, while the other three were completely new to Fudge and FATE. That took all of about fifteen to twenty minutes, questions included.

At this point it was just past 7pm. The store closes at 9pm, and one of the things I was interested in seeing was how much gaming we could get done within that given time. It's only two hours, and seems awfully short for a story driven game not based around one combat encounter after the next. Just like in the book, all the characters have their own motivations and stories, and they would need time to chat among themselves and get to know their travel companions. With time ticking by, I dived right in and sorted out the characters.

There are two male and two female Player Characters. One of the players requested a male, while the others didn't express a preference. With that sorted, I sat back for the next fifteen or so minutes as the players read over everything and asked questions about Aspects, Stunts or general descriptions. The Skill tree was only filled in from Great to Fair, giving everyone six Skills each. Everything else would be rolled at Mediocre, but the Average line was blank if players wanted to promote a Skill that they thought would be useful for the version of the character they were playing. Similarly, there was space in the Aspects for players to personalize the characters themselves.

With all that out of the way, the game began. By now it was 7:20pm. I had a little over 90 minutes.

As I described the station and the train, I laid out my little rectangles of acetate. The players were wonderful, jumping at the chance to talk about the unusual engine and the many cars it pulled, questioning station staff about some of the more unexpected elements, and finally boarding. Most of the players decided to all stay in one carriage (much to my relief), and the train chugged out of the station.

Skip to the end.

By nine o'clock we had gotten in a lot of revealing conversation, some clever and hilarious use of Aspects, aided by some equally hilarious roleplaying, an unending string of silly voices; started by me in the guise of the various NPCs, but picked up by all the players; and the first tentative spending of Fate Points. There was even a little hint of distrust among the PCs, something I didn't even have to encourage, but definitely hoped for! I never had the opportunity to invoke any obvious Compels, or I missed them if I did, but that's OK. It was only the first session, and I have a few bullet-points in my notes where some choice Compels will make things exciting later.

The game ended with everyone arriving at the first stop on the journey for an unexpected over-night stay and one of the characters uncovering yet another mystery.

All the players had a great time, and the feedback was jolly and positive. I had an absolute blast, and loved getting back into the GM seat after several months away. Everything ran smoothly, and the players claimed that they didn't feel too railroaded in their actions, pun entirely intended. While they were on board a train and reacting to outside forces on occasion, the freedom offered by the dependance on conversation and investigation offset any feelings that they didn't have control over where the story went to next.

I have two favorite moments from the first session.

The first happened shorty after boarding, one of the female PCs attempted to seduce one of the NPCs into revealing a little something about one of the mysteries on board. The player rolled well, but I miraculously rolled a full set of Pluses (I don't use GM screens, so the reaction from the players was immediate and comical)! The NPC coughed once, dragged his eyes from the heaving chest and returned to whatever he was doing at the time.

The second came later, just after a moment of excitement on board the train. Two of the Player Characters faced off against each other momentarily, each just making sure the other knew where they stood. As they relaxed, one turned to the other and said "I've got my eye on you, X", a line directly from the novel itself! And, while it was said in the novel by one of the other characters, in both cases it was said to the same character! I must have done something right in his description that the player played him just like the book writes him! I laughed out loud.

All in all, a great first session. We got a surprising amount done, and next week we'll have even longer, not losing out on the first half hour like we did this week due to reading over the characters. I can't think of anything that needs to be improved yet. This was was very much an introductory session, so things went smoothly. Maybe just keep a watchful eye out for those Compelling moments.


Selman Halabi said...

It was lots of fun!

Did I really play X the way he is the novel? If so, I'm glad to hear it, because I wasn't sure if I had the character down.

TheGoblin said...

Awesome post. I've been following the entire series and wondered how you felt about sharing any of your actual RPG material?

Denis said...

@ TheGoblin: Sorry, but due to the fact that this game in particular is adapted from a published novel, it wouldn't be cool to give out the material. Also, the notes are almost illegible to anyone but me. This was never written as something to be GMed by other people.

My upcoming RPG campaign that starts after I wrap up Dreadnought will be based in the world of Jim Butchers Dresden Files series, but will be my own stories set in Vancouver. Those posts will have more information on specific events, and i might consider posting the actual game notes as well.

But out of respect to Cherie Priest and her work, no game notes will be posted for Dreadnought.