A collection of rambling posts about gaming, running, and politics. (and, in 2009, photography.)

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Middle School RPG Demo

The Montessori school that my kids attend goes  through middle school (7th/8th grade), and they have a Friday Speaker series, where parents come in and talk about their career or hobby or what have you.  I've been doing one about tabletop role playing games since 2012 or 2013, and its always a lot of fun.  I've learned a few tricks along the way too.

Its a one hour deal, and there are usually about a dozen kids involved.  So the challenge is to run a fun demo game within that time period, and being able to engage that many people.

Some of the kids involved have played tabletop RPGs before, some aren't even certain what a "roleplaying game" is.  Turns out they've all seen Stranger Things, when I mentioned instances of D&D and rpgs in current media.

I brought a stack of game books in order to show folks that there are games for every interest, mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, etc, as well as very simple games, like the one-page Laser & Feelings, and the light weight Fate Accelerated, to more complex games like Shadowrun or GURPS.

We quickly get to playing our demo game.   I put a bucket of dice on the table and hand out some character sheets (those sheets, zipped).  They're very simplified, in order to not have to spend much time worrying over mechanics and system.

I've found that what seems to work best is having an engaging initial setup that provides some exciting adventure and lends itself to the party being split up to approach the goal in parallel. This year they had gotten information about the evil wizard Varyx, who was holed up in his skull mountain fortress, working to complete a ritual that would summon armies of undead.  I'd decided to offer a few avenues: they could talk or sneak through a mercenary camp, go through a haunted and forgotten underground tunnel, climb the side of the mountain past the wyvern guardians, or fly on giant eagles through a magical storm and shadow wraiths.  I steer them toward splitting into three groups of four, and deciding how each group wants to approach.

We had one group do the giant eagles and magical storm, one decide to scale the mountain, and one go for the forgotten tunnel.

My overall approach is to start one group, describe their journey, throw some complication or attack at them, ask them  how they're going to deal with it, and then tell them that we'll come back to them.  I then turn to the next group, describe their journey, throw a complication, and leave them  hanging and move to the third group, do the same, before coming back to the first group and asking them how they plan to deal with the problem before them.  It takes a couple of minutes to go around, so usually by the time I get back around to a group, they've had four or five minutes to think about what they want to do, so usually they have a plan.  I let them describe what they want to do, if necessary, try to frame it correctly in scale or scope, and then ask them to roll dice to see what happens.

If they get a full success, I let them narrate what happened, only providing guidance if they seem hesitant or if they get well outside the scope or scale of the roll.  If they roll a failure, I try to make it an interesting complication.  Maybe not a simple failure, but instead a success, but that something unexpected happens -- a cleric tried to blind an approaching wyvern, but rolled a fail.  He and the wyvern were both blind!

I end up going around the table a few times.  For this adventure, I'd basically planned that most of the action would be in the approach to the mountain.  The characters flying on eagles battled against shadow wraiths, and then a particularly strong wind that threatened to blow them out of the sky, and finally against evil henchmen with ballista atop the mountain and an evil cleric.   Those going through the forgotten tunnel had to deal with the ghosts of the miners who had been sealed in centuries ago.  They then had to deal with a huge stretch of booby traps, and finally with a snake infested tunnel up into the mountain.  This group rolled well against the ghosts and booby traps, but had failed roll after failed roll against the snakes.  Finally I narrated the snakes clearing the way, but a snake with glowing eyes caused them to glow red- this was a complication which I was really unsure about, as I was running out of time and needed them to get through the tunnel and into the mountain to finish the game, but it worked out great because when they met back up with the other parties, it turned out the red glow caused the other characters to think that they were evil, and for a moment it was tense, before someone removed their curse.  The party that went up the side of the mountain had to deal with perilous climbing and with wyvern nests.  They had a mix of successes and failures, dispatched a dangerous young wyvern and blinded another, eventually making their way up to the top of the mountain, having to fight through a final dangerous wyvern guardian near the top.

Once they were all through those perilous passages, we were nearly out of time, and I was pretty much out of material, so I narrated them making their way through the skull mountain, had the little bit about the party who glowed red, and then they had to figure out how to get into Varyx's ritual chamber, which they did and rolled some dice.  Again, we were mostly out of time by now, and I'd planned that their confrontation with Varyx would just be a short bit, so they cast a spell to open up a volcano beneath him, which was a mixed success, but it stopped the ritual. Varyx fled, and they had to deal with standing atop a crumbling floor over a volcano.  They cast a teleportation spell to get away, and we were done.

I'm always anxious leading up to those - a bit of performance anxiety, but they always end up going really smoothly and are super fun.

I have an idea about trying to be certain that every player gets enough opportunities for dice rolls that they can get a complete success and narrate the result themselves.  To do this easily, I'd need to mark the players who have already gotten a complete success.  I may grab this set of coins online and give one to each player who gets a complete success, and let them keep the coin.  I have each player also take and keep a dice of their choosing from the big bucket o' dice.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Sprawl RPG, Episode 1

I was primed to start Blades in the Dark today, but I want to have all of the "for sure" players in attendance for the first game, and one was unavailable.  I'd grabbed a copy of The Sprawl by Hamish Cameron, Ardens Ludere.  It's one of the "Powered by the Apocalypse games", which I'm really very into at the moment.

So we ran The Sprawl instead, and it was pretty terrific.

Jacob and Billy showed up to play.  Billy and I have been trying to get a game together for a year or two, so it was good to make that happen.  Jacob played in my earlier Dungeon World game, and is as into a couple of RPG systems as I am.  These guys come from different RPG backgrounds, Billy has played a lot of D&D for awhile, and Jacob comes from Mouse Guard and Apocalypse world and the like.

We chatted for a few minutes about cyberpunk (neither has played Shadowrun!!), but our time was limited and I wanted to move things swiftly along toward actual play.  I talked a little about how the system works, and then we started to look at characters.  I felt super scattered, and sortof went back and forth about filling out playbooks, and the other early steps.  We made corporations, which we were pretty minimal about - just did names and types, didn't go into any depth about their goals or themes.  We spent a good bit of time on playbooks and moves and such, but I think that's unavoidable, with it being brand new to folks.

As simple as PbtA is, it still does require some system understanding I think, if the choice of moves and cyberwear are to mean anything.

Billy settled on playing a Tech who went by the moniker The Machine, and Jacob took a Hunter called Ritter.

They made some choices about how they'd acquired their cyberware: Ritter screwed someone over to afford his, The Machine is in debt to no one, but his cyber is +unreliable.

With two players, creating Links was a little wonky, but still alright.

And then we moved pretty quickly to play.

To be honest, I was having trouble jumping in.  I just couldn't get comfortable with describing it, and felt really rusty.  I had a really hard time just with the classic "Your phone rings, it's your fixer." And to be honest, the game suggests just jumping right to the interesting bits, and skipping all of the drawn out setup.

Eventually though they Johnson was chatting with Ritter and Machine, and had a job - an extraction - for them.  Again I felt awkward, figuring out how much negotiating to do before we did the move and dice roll.  But again, we soon went to the get the job roll.  They hit in the middle, and got some [intel] from the employer.

Once again I struggled - they had the job, but I wasn't sure how to start on legwork.  The players seem to flounder a touch as well, so I buried my nose in the book for a minute, and then started walking us through what information was already known, and what they needed to know.

The legwork was probably the toughest for me, and I feel like I was really getting too consumed by the mechanics of the game, and wasn't working enough on just running a fun game.

Eventually we sort of found a groove, and some contacts started appearing.  They ended up planning to create a situation by getting their mark to come out to an event that they'd lure him to.  It involved a corporate-world contacted named Dall, who could schedule him for it under the guise of a job offer from a rival corporation.  Dal was happy to help them, but he'd need their help in return.  He had a Russian mobster leaning on him for something, and so our protagonists set off to fix Dal's little issue with Viktor.

Viktor has an office in a run-down strip mall, and they parked nearby to observe.   They watched two guys in cheap suits hang out in a temporary-looking office space, then leave and hop into a car.  Ritter and Machine followed from a distance behind, relying on one of Machine's drones to keep tabs on them.  They took the north highway, which doesn't go to much other than Canada and the Docks.  They ran into a traffic jam, and were considering deploying the heavy combat drone when police started showing up in force, on account of the military cargo that had overturned ahead.  That curbed the violence option.  After a bit, traffic was diverted, and they followed a very long, slow line of cars off of the highway and onto surface streets.

Ritter called on his knowledge of the city streets, and directed them back under the overpass and up a side-street, betting that their target was heading for the Docks.  And sure enough, after a while, the car with the two men from the strip mall came around the corner and pulled up to the ramp, which they blocked - and then the combat drone came out.   Negotiations were swift, and Victor agreed to leave Dal alone for now, but implied that he'd be on the lookout for our protagonists in the future.

In short order, Dal had set them up with the extraction target.  The meeting was planned to go down in a private room at a local club.  Their target believed that it was an interview with a rival corporation, so he showed up without his employer-provided body guards.  Machine parked by the back door, with the combat drone in the back of the truck, while Ritter went in, and waited on the mark.

Soon enough, the mark arrived and made his way to the private room - and immediately set upon by Ritter, in an attempt to quickly subdue him for extraction.

Note to self: be sure to offer to let the player do the narration, since we know what the outcome is already.

In this case, it led to a somewhat epic struggle between Ritter and their target.  It was a brutal fight, that ended up spilling out through the floor-to-ceiling glass, and into the corridor.  But in the end, Ritter had the upper hand, and despite being pretty seriously injured, he carry-dragged the extractee out and toward the back door.

Shortly after the target had entered the club, another car pulled into the back lot and parked near Machine.  The two guys inside were clearly corporate security types, keeping tabs on the mark.   Machine was positioned closely by the back door, but made plans to open up on the security goons with the combat drone in the back.

Ritter was confronted by a security guard in the back hall, but when Ritter produced his pistol, security split, and Ritter made it to the back door -- just in time to hear the clatter of the combat drone's mini-gun opening up on the security guy's vehicle.  They'd armed themselves and were about to go inside when Machine moved to keep them pinned down.

Ritter made it into the vehicle with the target, and they rolled out.  The security guys fired at them ineffectually, and could not follow them.

They contacted their employer and arranged a meet to hand over the target, and the rest of it went off without a hitch.  They did the get paid move, and then we were done.

I did have a great time at this game, but I felt really off my game.  It took me forever to get into the groove of it.

I attribute this to the still seeming-newness of PbtA, and trying to describe cyberpunk setting to folks who didn't have the same experiences with it that I did.

Would I run this again? Fuck yes.  I really had a good time.  I'm about to start a blades in the dark campaign, but will keep The Sprawl handy as stand-by or fill in and such.

That is all.