notes from behind the screen: new group, same campaign

There’s a new geeky place in Glasgow, the Geek Retreat. It’s a small cafe/comic book shop/hangout place with a small but growing game selection and a welcoming staff.

Last month I heard they were looking for a game master and I promptly volunteered, which led me to start running AFG on Wednesdays. Since at the third session we had 9 (8+GM) people at the table (more on that in the next paragraph) I decided to also start (from this coming week) to run some variety of D&D on Thursdays, as it seems that there are more people wanting to play.

On running for 8 players – there is a maximum group size, but I’m not sure what it is. It surely depends on game system, player socialization (both how they are socialized to behave in groups and how much they chat between themselves at the table), noise level, play style and GM exposition skill. In Geek Retreat 8 players were probably beyond my capacity, but I noticed the noise was distracting me, especially with British players (they tend to speak quieter than Italians at the table, and probably anywhere else, and gesticulating less). Something that I felt helped a lot is the AFG initiative system: split in 4 phases (melee, missile, movement, magic) in each phase all actions are simultaneous. Instead of rolling initiative the referee simply asks “is anybody attacking in melee?” at the beginning of the first phase, then resolves all melee, then repeats the same for the remaining phases (with some caveats you can find in the free, “light” AFG rules). No initiative roll, no sorting, only 4 phases.

On the players – I’m really lucky. There is definitely a mix of experience, and a couple of them never played tabletop, but none of them seems to have too many problems with OSR-style play. Or having their characters mutilated: in 4 sessions a character lost an eye to a zombie finger, another had an arm disabled for a couple of sessions, the caster failed a TS against Hellgate, shielded herself with her arm and took way too much damage, then collapsed.  Due to all that molten skin and carbonized tissue, the arm had to be amputated to avoid gangrene and sepsis, so now an orphan kid is reloading her crossbow.

So, at her second session ever, her PC gets fireballed, collapses, then wakes up without an arm. Ah, happytimes.

On the setting – people, fantastic spaces need a map. They do. At least it works as “list of places we can go”. Even something scrabbled with a pencil in 2 minutes while you explain the setting is way, way better than nothing. About 10000 gigajoule/lightyear better. Even if this is the eight campaign I run in the Uplands/Western League campaign, I don’t have a map for the setting yet. I have a few maps, some even made with Hexographer, but players need a map. Conveying geography with words is complicated, but with words and maps it’s incredibly easier.

So at the beginning of session two I scribbled a map while I was filling in players with some background details. I do a 2-3 minutes infodump at the beginning of every session, complete with a recap of what happened and the last session’s loose ends. Why the recap and the loose ends? Because players, between sessions, are distracted by things such as “real life” et similia, so I don’t want them to bumble around before they remember what’s left to be done. Time for gaming is precious.

Something I feel I’m getting better at is this whole business of running many campaigns in the same settings and making all the consequences matter. I kicked off the campaign with three hooks generated in the last session ran with the OTM – Original Tilean Murderhoboes and, well, being in a place with a lot of interesting events with their own background, and a background behind that background generated by real people murderhoboing around a table is way, way more compelling than anything I could come up with.

More specifically the players investigated what happened to the hunting lodge of gunther von Untervald, the first son of Wilhelm, the previous Untervald Schultheiss. Gunther was supposed to be the new schultheiss after the death of his father, but due to being a horrible douchebag the Court Council exhiled him and instead elected Hansel, his brother, which is kind and handsome and speaks with a silvery voice and makes everybody fawn. Everybody. He’s that pretty. Anyway, Gunther started brigandage in the Upland Court, where the OTM ( and their warband) killed him (and all his followers) with great prejudice and glee. More events happened in the next 11 hours of play with the OTM, including almost a war between the courts of Untervald, Obervald and Oberschwartztal on one side and Oberland, Erminelin, Farturm (the court ran by some of the OTM) and Zeegau on the other. Avoiding the war by a mix of clever diplomacy and the long-proven tactic of killing all the witnesses, the whole clusterf*ck lead the OTM deviating a stream to the basement of Gunther’s hunting lodge to quash a handful of portals that were mistakenly opened toward one of the many Fiery Hells that somehow coexist in my setting. Because when they f*ckup, they f*ckup good.

JOESKY TAX – FIGHTMORE MAYHEM

To make melee even faster and less confusing, we also playtested a variation of FIGHTMORE meant to better represent messy fights with a bunch of combatants fighting each other. The rules might end up something similar to this:

  1. everybody in melee, for both sides, rolls 1d6 and add their FC (or 1d20+equivalent fighting level).
  2. sort the results for each side, then pair them up, better results against better result and then going down.
  3. Then the rest works normally as FIGHTMORE. Whoever wins his matchup this round deals damage to the opponent, armour reduces damage, shields break ties.

It’s quick and dirty but very effective, especially with big groups when you don’t want to use 5MAIL. Those with polearms fighting from the second rank can attack whoever, and if somebody wants to attack a specific target it’s still possible (treat their roll against a specific target instead of the matchup from the sorted list).

Something else I introduced is the “what were you up to before adventuring” part of chargen. In addition to the AFG fixed starting equipment, the class-based rolls and the random oddball object, I let players roll on an occupation table and five them 1 EXPERT letter in a task related to that occupation. It does not break the game at all to give 1 XP to starting characters, yet it gives them a background and direction. And if the PC has a low stat relevant to the determined task, well, that’s why they gave up and preferred to go adventuring. 🙂

JOESKY TAX REDUX – DRAGON SCALES

The previously mentioned caster worships the Mistress of Hopping Dragons (thanks Jeff), but instead of being a ballsy demon-prince worshipper the player preferred to have protection spells. This fits with dragon-magic: a few spells have been simply reskins of existing ones, but one of them is both a protection spell and an almost-healing spell.

Dragon Scales – lvl 1

Range: touch. Duration: until dawn, see below.

The subject grows thick dragon scales. The scale absorb damage that would otherwise be dealt to the target. After absorbing a total of 1d6 hits, the spell ends.

Dragon Scales is simple, but I like the implications. It can be cast before combat and in combat as almost-healing, but it does not heal anything. On one hand, healing is very useful, on the other hand constructs can use some dragon scales too. 😉

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2 thoughts on “notes from behind the screen: new group, same campaign

  1. The world needs more places like this. I forget how lucky I am to live in a town with a fifty plus strong gaming society and a pub that has no problem letting us take over once a week for free. As long we pay for drinks of course, but that’s not a problem at all.

  2. Pingback: More on the Challenges Combat system hack: Multiattacks, | Lost Pages

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