Author Topic: A game I love to prep for  (Read 3137 times)

Rafu

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A game I love to prep for
« on: October 05, 2016, 09:34:59 PM »
As a GM, I've never had as much fun preparing as I do with our current weekly Freebooting Venus game. Ever. On workdays, I keep looking forward to the few minutes I'll eventually get to spend in intimacy with my GM notebook like they were the sweetest of treats.
I'm starting this thread as a place to write about my prep (I'm not going to copy and paste my actual notes, especially considering most of them are handwritten, and in Italian) both as a data point (I figure it may be useful to Vincent to know how people are handling this part of the game, especially since more is implied than described in the current draft) and in preparation to eventually blogging about how much lonely fun I'm having.

Rafu

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Re: A game I love to prep for
« Reply #1 on: October 05, 2016, 10:46:48 PM »
First session

For our first session, of course I didn't have anything prepped beforehand. In fact, we hadn't even agreed on a game to play: we spent maybe 30 minutes discussing various options before choosing Freebooting Venus. It had been a long time since I'd actually read the draft booklet, and nobody else had.

First, we went through character creation, with me acting as a rule-interpreter. This was mostly smooth, with any hiccups to be blamed on me not remembering how the game worked. The one thing everyone found difficult, though, was to come up with a name: they all saved this for the last step, and lamented not having a name list or something. I suggested using the Questlandia trick of writing down random syllables and picking from those, but by the time this tool was ready, everyone had chosen a name some other way. I kept the syllable list to use for NPCs and double-checked all syllables from the PCs' names were in it.
We had:
  • Iago: an aging murderer for hire, skilled at Sword-binding and Stealth, all armed and armored like a pro. Played by Lavinia.
  • Vetin: a Graceful, talkative young woman with a real sense of adventure for its own sake. She dabbles in magical spells, has an obsession with fashion and an interest in Ideology, philosophy & science. Played by Enrico.
  • Nictus: an austere and ambitious Necromancer with a grim, scary Reputation. Accompanied by the ghosts of a knight and a witch. He's dabbling in magical spells with the obvious ambition of becoming a real wizard. Played by Alessio.
  • Dix: a young man - some call him a boy - with great Instincts. He can work Necromancy, but is loathe to do so and actively hides this skill from other PCs: it was later established this is due to a unhappy childhood as the son of ambitious necromancers. Played by Barbara.

I immediately proceeded to roll on the opening situation table:
  • In the kitchen garden of a house of luxury, where the great come to drink, dine and divert themselves
  • The ruthless enforcer of a city underlord.
  • A necromancer drawn to the carnage.
Pretty straightforward! I described the kitchen garden to set the scene, then introduced the enforcer and described her as: "a woman with scars on her face and obviously from the Half-Bat gang - you can tell from the make and color of her armor. They run the gambling racket, you know. She's armed, and..."
I also described the character accompanying her (I opted to put out everything I had upfront) as a lanky man in a robe the color of jasminite, with remarkable tattoos all over his bald scalp, and "obviously a necromancer, in no way trying to be subtle".

My unstated idea was that the woman (much later, I named her "Kamrissa") was there to murder somebody and the necromancer (soon named "Tinius") had a business agreement with her to be a witness to the killing and harvest the ghosts of the freshly slain.

Then I asked the other players questions. This wasn't as smooth as I had expected! I felt it was clunky. One player later said she'd hated this step, although one other player told us he loved it. But between this and some spontaneous, out-of-character chatter we'd soon established that Dix, Nictus and Vetin were there as hired workers (as a kitchen hand, security guard and announcer tasked with introducing guests, respectively) and just relaxing in the kitchen garden, while Iago was waiting in ambush for Kamrissa to appear: it was "personal" between them in that she'd been hired to carry out a murder he'd hoped to carry out instead. Also, Vetin was already wounded and bleeding, so we quickly established Kamrissa was armed with a crossbow and had shot her first upon her arrival.

Interesting detail here: Iago's history with her suggests Kamrissa is here to kill a specific target, while her opening fire on Vetin first suggests an indiscriminate, random carnage. This dissonance later proved good.

They dealt with the situation, of course, and we ended up with a dead Tinius the Necromancer, Kamrissa fleeing the scene basically unharmed and Dix "owing one" to Kamrissa. Meanwhile, Vetin had tried a bluff of mentioning a random name - "Vettonius" - to add weight to a threat. Of course, when she was brought in to be medicated, some other guest paid her handsomely for a hint about how to recognize Vettonius at the (masquerade) party - the sum was enough for her to eventually lay the foundations of her estate!

This was the entirety of our first session. Then, everything went snowballing from there.
[to be continued]
« Last Edit: October 06, 2016, 07:26:58 AM by Rafu »

Rafu

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Re: A game I love to prep for
« Reply #2 on: October 06, 2016, 08:19:27 AM »
The notebook

During the first session, I'd been scribbling notes on a small piece of paper - mostly, the names of NPCs I happened to name.
After the first session, I fashioned myself a new notebook by stapling together a bunch of scrap paper and gluing any 1st session notes into it. Then I started making more detailed notes.

Musing about the details, I easily retconned what had happened in the 1st session as the effects of several bad decisions taken by powerful individuals - in a word, Trouble! While doing so, I named everyone and everything needing a name, and in doing so I elaborated freely on cultural details according to my fancy, writing several half-pages about such matters.

For example: I gave Kamrissa her name and, in deciding who exactly had hired her to kill whom (Trouble upon Trouble), I also decided "Half-Bat gang" was just a street-level nickname for an entity formally known as The Devout Brotherhood of the Wheel That Giveth and Taketh, itself an adjunct to the Wheel of Fortune clergy: the Wheel of Fortune temple effectively runs all the legit gambling operations in town, or gets a share of them, while the Half-Bat takes care the same is true of illicit, underground gambling. This way I settled on the concept that a lot of citizens organize around a number of cults which handle matters not necessarily religious.

Or: I definitely had to decide who "Vettonius" was, now that an NPC guest had made such a big deal of this name being mentioned at the party. I went for a powerful magistrate, and sketched out a big chunk of the city-state's law enforcement system.

At some point during this process, I named the city "Vanetys" and wrote down something about its basic geography as well.

Everything I made up followed from the events in the 1st session somehow, though sometimes only by freewheeling association. A huge snowball.

I had a really great time making these notes, so I wrote on my notebook whenever I could during the week, and by the following Sunday I had assembled a lot of playable material...
[to be continued]


lumpley

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Re: A game I love to prep for
« Reply #3 on: October 06, 2016, 12:08:26 PM »
Exciting! I'll be following this thread avidly.

-Vincent

Paul T.

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Re: A game I love to prep for
« Reply #4 on: October 06, 2016, 03:36:55 PM »
Very interesting, indeed!

I am curious to hear more about the challenges of the first session, and if you have thoughts on how you might do things differently in the future.

Rafu

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Re: A game I love to prep for
« Reply #5 on: October 06, 2016, 10:37:50 PM »
I am curious to hear more about the challenges of the first session, and if you have thoughts on how you might do things differently in the future.
Not much I can say in this area, I'm sorry.

For sure, if I could go back in time, I'd study the rules more carefully before launching into the 1st session: operations would've been smoother if I hadn't so frequently stopped to flip through the booklet and try to understand what I was doing, right?

As for the roll for a situation + ask questions thing, the problem is just that not everybody digs it. Those who do, do because they want to be thrown into the action without thinking and are OK with "finding" their characters after a while, through attempts and missteps. To those who don't dig it, though, it feels like too much of a cold start, and when asked questions they stare back at you like "I dunno, whatever", because it's just too much, too early - these people need to be eased into the game before they can start performing as their character, etc. I don't think this can be fixed, really.

Rafu

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Re: A game I love to prep for
« Reply #6 on: October 07, 2016, 09:47:30 AM »
A closer look at my notebook

First thing is, it looks like a mess. It's made of loose pieces of paper folded and stapled together in the middle, but not all of the pages are blank (some are just junk paper, some I put into the stack on purpose, such as printouts of some "Miscellanea" pages from Worlds Without Master). Some pages are a patchwork of smaller pieces of paper stapled on top of each other. The whole thing is grease-stained from being carried around in my bag and being too close to a turmeric bread roll.
It's got flaps on its cover pages - parts printed and cut out of the manual. The cover page flap is a square of paper which reads:
Quote
the Object of the Game
For the players, the object of the game is to mark as many good
experiences as they can and want.
For you, the object of the game is not to stop them, but instead, to
make them mark as many bad experiences along the way as you can
and ?nd entertaining.
Your Duties
• Make life on Venus vivid.
• Make life on Venus concrete.
• Play to see what will happen.
• Do your duty to the game you’re playing:
For H??? ?? M???? ?? ??? C??? ?? N???????, create jobs.
For F?????????? V????, create trouble.
For T?????? ??? J???????? G????, follow the characters’ fates.
For B?????? ?? W??, create rival war-bands and battles.
For T?? G???????, respond to the wizard’s endeavors.
For ? W?????’? S????????, develop the seclusium’s phases.
For E??????????, create rivals, challenges, and opportunities.
The back-cover flap similarly has the remaining test from that same page, including "An opening situation" on a side, plus a carefully handwritten reminder that the moon of Venus is called Neith. These flaps I made when I first fashioned the notebook, as a carry over habit from having an MC Reference Sheet and a lot of other bits of paper in Apocalypse World. I found that I'm not really using them - haven't been since the third session, for sure. Maybe I don't need them anymore because I've familiarized with the game, or maybe I've never needed them at all because the 1st Draft booklet is so slim and quick to page through, who knows.

Inside the notebook I write my notes, but not in a very orderly fashion. I skip pages, then go back to them. I fill some pages starting from the top, some other starting from the middle and I leave the top for later. I usually fill in a right-hand page before the facing, left-hand page in the same spread. It all makes sense to me: the physical notebook is my mind-palace, sorted according to a thought-map of sorts (within its hard limitations) and I can usually find whatever I'm looking for without too much flipping back and forward. Except for a couple, infamous pages which have sorta get lost, off-map, and I can never seem to find them - luckily, the notebook isn't too big. I use black ink sometimes, blue ink sometimes - sometimes they happen to be mixed in the same line or sentence, where I'd left a blank for a word I've then filled in later - and I'm actually surprised nothing's in pencil so far. My handwriting is famously impossible to read: as most of these notes were hastily scribbled, sometimes I can't make out a word or three myself - but that's OK, since I'm familiar enough with the content that, most of the time, I just need a quick refresher, a reminder, a hint, and I fill in the blanks in my mind. Two years from now, though? This will probably be useless crap (and that's OK I suppose; I'm actively trying to reconcile myself with the transient, ephemeral nature of reality).

During play, I'm more likely to scribble notes in pencil on an additional piece of scrap paper, though I can make a small fix here or there - same as AW Fronts, most notebook maintenance happens between sessions. I hadn't thought about it before starting this thread, but now in principle I believe all of my notes fall into one of three categories:
  • Trouble, often explicitly marked as such. The actual bad decisions somebody made, and who made them. Accumulating fast because, you know, snowball. This is the most necessary part, the one I don't necessarily like to think about, but most of the time it occurs to me spontaneously, following from what's happened so far.
  • NPCs, with a few details of appearance and personality (plus sometimes elaborate histories attached which fall into the next category) for when PCs are eventually going to encounter them. Also a line with their combat stats. I know I'm very bad at making up interesting NPCs while playing - they end up being nondescript and barely functional - so you could probably tell, watching from the outside, which ones I'd thought out in advance. But characters who've had just a little screen time, I often remember them and do them the full notebook treatment.
  • Details making life on Venus more vivid and concrete: cults and other organizations, deities, traditions, buildings, neighborhoods, works of art, family histories... This is the part I'm really in love with, which flows almost spontaneously from my imagination and makes me love to prep for this game. I expect most of the notebook is going to be filled with this stuff, eventually.

Paul T.

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Re: A game I love to prep for
« Reply #7 on: October 07, 2016, 06:16:24 PM »
Fantastic!

I'd love to hear a little about the transition from "awkward, in media res beginning"  to the "mature" form of the game. While I'd imagine that a lot of that happened in-between sessions (how did the second session feel different from the first?), some of it must have taken place during the first session, as well.

Rafu

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Re: A game I love to prep for
« Reply #8 on: October 07, 2016, 10:58:33 PM »
I'd love to hear a little about the transition from "awkward, in media res beginning"  to the "mature" form of the game. While I'd imagine that a lot of that happened in-between sessions (how did the second session feel different from the first?), some of it must have taken place during the first session, as well.
Oh, I see! Now I "get" it.

One thing is, there's this perpetual ongoing debate within our group, about how much of your character you need to have defined before you start playing. Fact is, the individual proponents of the most "extreme" viewpoints ("I sorta miss writing a multi-page character back-story" vs. "starting in medias res w/no character definition at all is teh awzom") actually converge, in practice, in that they need some time to "find" their characters through play. Thus, for the most "anti-medias res" player, in between the first session or three she makes up her mind about who her character is and what kind of past, baggage, etc. made them behave the way they've behaved in the 1st session... and now she feels she's really playing. Meanwhile, the top "pro-medias res" player is playing a character who doesn't know who they are and are trying to find themselves - it takes a session or three for his character to find themselves well enough that the player is finally satisfied he isn't playing an insipid character. This dynamic has played itself out over 4 sessions of Freebooting Venus almost identically to how it did in our previous AW game, down to the point that these two players' characters now appear to be flirting with each other. So, it's just us.

OTOH, as a more general thing, it's just the transition from "setting a starting situation" to "following up on it" that equals a transition from awkward to alright play. In FV you're very explicitly beginning in medias res and creating a starting situation backwards, so this had to be awkward for a few minutes? In that we weren't, like, playing our characters, but more or less debating why those characters were there. It was an extended scene framing moment with everybody participating, but not everyone contributing equally. Once we were done framing the scene, and we were just playing our characters, then the awkwardness was gone and the awesome had begun. In other words, we had to push the snowball into motion, but once it was going, it was going.

Does that explain it?

Paul T.

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Re: A game I love to prep for
« Reply #9 on: October 08, 2016, 01:36:18 AM »
That's a pretty good overview from a 10,000ft level, yeah!

I'm curious what it looked like, and what it felt like, at the table, though!

What kinds of decisions did you find yourself making?

What did the players struggle with, and what did they pounce on?

How did it feel to transition out of the immediate scene into the rest of the first session?

If it was easy, why? Were there dangling bits or unresolved story to pursue? If so, how did they come about? Are there some 'best practices' we can distill from that?

Thanks for the thorough answers!

Rafu

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Re: A game I love to prep for
« Reply #10 on: October 08, 2016, 07:24:54 AM »
Paul, I hadn't originally planned to post an even more detailed actual play account of my first session, both because it's time intensive and not quite what I envisioned this thread to be... But if you're struggling with FV 1st sessions, I can do that -- produce an in-depth account for the records. Just be warned that I don't really have a recipe or any solutions to any specific problems, besides my usual "keep faking it until you "get" it" which sorta applies to everything in life.
Since it appears there are a number of threads around here with 1st session APs, maybe you could start a thread with a collection of excerpts from those, pointing at things you're looking for guidance with? And I'll chime in with mine (my AP, not my guidance which I don't really have).

Paul T.

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Re: A game I love to prep for
« Reply #11 on: October 08, 2016, 09:51:07 PM »
Hmmm.

To be fair, I just reread your AP (above), and it sounds like the resolution of the first scene (and its immediate consequences) pretty much WERE the first session. That gave you time to go prep afterwards, for the second session (I don't know if you've played again?).

That's... not an entirely bad guideline of its own: "play out the starting scene, and stop there." Kind of like a "teaser" of sorts.

Rafu

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Re: A game I love to prep for
« Reply #12 on: October 08, 2016, 11:27:52 PM »
it sounds like the resolution of the first scene (and its immediate consequences) pretty much WERE the first session.
You're correct. By the time that immediate situation had been resolved, we'd run out of time.

(I don't know if you've played again?)
As a matter of fact we have. The session scheduled for tomorrow is our 5th, if I'm not mistaken.

Paul T.

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Re: A game I love to prep for
« Reply #13 on: October 09, 2016, 05:54:26 PM »
Great, thanks! What shape has the game taken over these five sessions?

Has it been mostly a game of the MC causing trouble and the players interacting with the MC's prep?

How does it feel different in play from, say, AW?

Have you tried my little magic hack, or are you playing it as-written?

Rafu

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Re: A game I love to prep for
« Reply #14 on: October 09, 2016, 10:43:54 PM »
Great, thanks! What shape has the game taken over these five sessions?

Has it been mostly a game of the MC causing trouble and the players interacting with the MC's prep?

I definitely hasn't. Because, when I prep trouble, it's always as a consequence of something they did, or a distant consequence of something already in play, or to make sense of something I had to make up on the spot when they rolled a 6 or less. So it feels more like a game of them inviting their own trouble, and trouble inevitably honoring their invitation. It feels like an extended Fiasco, except that their hopes for success are much higher.

How does it feel different in play from, say, AW?
The main difference is in the kind of world they're interacting with, its feel and sheer scale.
AW was a "small world" game to us: no faceless crowds, almost everybody on screen had a name, everyone knew everybody. Outside this small circle, the world was a blank slate, with literally everything being possible. But, on the other hand, we were very serious about it being a SF game - a near-future SF game with an environmental main theme - and we very consciously kept to our real-world expectations. The threshold for our suspension of disbelief was a very strict "this could fucking seriously be our world 50 years from now". Plus our Maelstrom was fucking scary, arthouse horror film stuff, with a damn strong undercurrent of "something's wrong with both the world and our mind". Every PC's core motivation was to "fix" their world at some very fundamental level, and their own human frailty was what held them back - while, as the MC, I was concerned with highlighting what's wrong with our contemporary, real wold.
Our FV is set in city of 1 million people with a sophisticated culture and lots of social complexity. You can literally hide in plain sight in the middle of a busy marketplace, and there are such things as bureaucracy, etiquette, banking... It's less personal, less scary, more lighthearted. Very close to a cyberpunk RPG "sprawl", if you'll just replace hacking and the cyberspace with necromancy and ghosts (but not the mercenary hit squad, "go on missions and be betrayed by your boss" playstyle I've learned from the Forge many roleplayers associate with Shadowrun), And we're constantly talking about how the wider world works, in general. The opposite of a "small world". And while a lot of people are fucked up, it's also a place of beauty. The PCs are mostly concerned with bettering their own lot in life and fulfilling their own ambitions, some of them also with doing what feels right for its own sake, but they aren't trying to change the world in any fundamental way.

Also, in AW you have all these different playbooks meaning PCs each deal with their own, specific concerns, possibly on a wholly different scale. In FV they're all playing the same character type, for now at least (my understanding is that in the long term the various "modules" will become the equivalent of AW playbooks: a PC wizard establishing their own seclusium has very different mindset and perspectives than a PC who's leading a warband, say).

Have you tried my little magic hack, or are you playing it as-written?
Playing it as written, for now. But, to be fair, there have only been two spells cast  so far over 5 sessions, one by a PC and one by an NPC, thus we haven't really felt the need for any added variety or flexibility.