Review: Fate Worlds – Masters of Umdaar

In a sentence: There are Lazer-Wolves in the sample adventure.

This tells you all you need to know, and it’s not a bad thing. Lazer-Wolves. With a “z,” like you came up with them before you knew how to spell “laser”.

The Fate Worlds of Adventure supplements are some of my favourite resources to turn to for one-shot planning; they each present a setting, rich in adventure and possibilities, with Fate rules guidelines (always including some variant rules for the setting), and a starter adventure. There’s a lot of them out there, so I’m going to be posting some snapshot reviews of them – they’re all really good one-shot fodder, but there’s rather a lot of them and so it can be tricky to get your head around what they are good for.

Masters of Umdaar is available from RPGNow as Pay-What-You-Want for the .pdf; if you want it in print, it’s also part of the “Worlds Rise Up” Fate Worlds collection, along with three other Worlds of Adventure.

The Fluff – Archaeonauts Assemble!

Masters of Umdaar (MOU) presents a science fantasy world where tyrannical Masters rule a fantasy world; you play the brilliantly-named Archaeonauts, hunting down lost technologies to try and defeat the Masters and restore freedom to the land.

In tone and style, at least to someone of my age and cultural origin, this reads and plays like a more-gonzo He Man and the Masters of the Universe game – PCs will be one of 15 bioforms including Mutabeasts, Chimeras, and the relatively mainstream Amazons and Mutants, and are certain to be employing a mixture of magic, technology, and anything else that can be easily handwaved. The setting and sample adventure are unashamedly gonzo; the adventure includes Lazer-Wolves, only a slight shift from the flying laser-eyed bears of the lovably bonkers World of Synnibarr RPG.

The Crunch – Cliffhangers and Random Gonzo-ness

MOU uses the Fate Accelerated (FAE) system as its base, but adds some tweaks. Character generation adds an optional random bioform element, random tables for Powers, Weapons and Adaptations (basically Stunts) and gives some suggested “class”-based allocations of Approaches. This, with FAE’s adaptability, comes up with interesting characters and pushes your players (or you, if you’re making pregens for a one-shot) towards embracing the gonzo in your game.

It also includes a new type of Scene, the Cliffhanger, which is an absolutely excellent way to model deathtraps / skill challenges / just about any extended scene in FAE. By allocating which Approaches will be most succesful, it allows flexibility for players to choose how to solve problems while still allowing the GM to be prepared for the scene to work. Even if the thought of laser-tailed canines leaves you rolling your eyes, if you have any intention of running a high adventure FAE game, this supplement is worth buying for these rules.

The One-Shot – Like Wolves, but with Lasers, sorry, Lazers

It’s the ideal setting for a one-shot; the Saturday morning cartoon feel means the tropes and high-pulp action are easy to get into, and the laughably simple premise points the players directly at whatever adventure goals you have planned. While the character generation rules are fun, I’d still provide pregens for this game though – even with the random rolls, Fate is most fun when you’re playing, and the stunts and aspects add a bit of crunch that will slow the game down to the speed of the most leisurely player when you really should have your PCs fighting mutants and hanging from metaphorical cliffs.

Having run the sample adventure as written as a one-shot, I’d recommend it with one caveat – it is quite quickly over. There’s a social Challenge scene, a fight, a Cliffhanger, and a big fight at the end – but the implied pace of the encounters is unlikely to give your players much pause for thought. If you want to fill a slot with it, while you could add more sections to the plot, I would be tempted to tack on a follow-up adventure to find another Starblade of Su’ul (honestly…) and weave this into the original plot.

Have you had any experience of running or playing in MOU as a one-shot? Or looked at importing Cliffhangers into a more vanilla FAE game?

He’ll Rip Your Lungs Out, Jim! – Monster of the Week at Seven Hills (spoiler-free)

In less than a week’s time, I’ll be running a one-shot game of Monster of the Week (MOTW) at Seven Hills, an RPG convention in Sheffield, UK. Each year Seven Hills has a theme, and this year’s is Urban Legends, so for inspiration I’ve turned to a Warren Zevon song, Werewolves of London. I’m imagining the tone to be a bit Rivers of London, a bit Charles Stross, a bit Neverwhere – here’s my pitch.

Something is afoot on the other side of London – there’s been six bodies found this week, and it’s only so much you can cover up about the claw slashes and tooth marks before the press get hold of it. Clearly somebody has upset somebody over at the Isle of Dogs, and it’s up to you, the Metropolitan Occult Crime Squad, to investigate. In fact, of course it’s up to you, because somehow police cuts means that four humans should be enough to keep all of the gods, vampires, werewolves, fairies and associated spirits in the most mystically potent city in western Europe from bothering the man on the Clapham Omnibus… all without said man finding out about their existence.
A game using Monster of the Week, a powered-by—the-Apocalypse game of occult investigation, set in an occult London mashed up from Neverwhere, Rivers of London, and Warren Zevon lyrics. No knowledge of the source material is needed, and it doesn’t matter if you haven’t played an Apocalypse World-style game before.

Every time I prep a convention game I get to this point less than a week before the con – the feeling like I’ve got lots still to do. The one thing I have done is decide how I’m going to tweak the game to make it work in a One-Shot, adapting some of the stuff I talked about here from running The ‘Hood in a similar 3-hour session. I don’t expect we’ll do quite as much setup at the table as we did for that game, but I’m still doing playbook stuff and creating NPCs and locations with the players.

Rules Changes

Monster of the Week does offer really clear procedures for running a one-shot. The main one that jumps out is restricting Luck – every Hunter starts with a pool of Luck points that they can spend for an auto-Hit on a move. MOTW suggests reducing the 7 that you normally get to 1-3; I’m going with 2, as I think just 1 will mean my players hoard them until the last ten minutes of the game and then spend them.

The other change is to make the equipment fit the concept of it being set in the UK; players are only going to be able to pick weapons that make sense that fit with the concept. I’m not going to do make any changes other than just restrict the guns; the Professional, for instance, might be able to get a sidearm, but there will certainly be a lot of paperwork to fill in to actually use it. Of course, he’ll be able to call on tactical support if the situation calls for it; but of course, these officers aren’t members of OCS, so might react unpredictably to the supernatural.

I’m also going to start the players off with 3 experience; this way, they will get to Level Up much earlier in the game.

Restricted Playbooks

My game has ended up being fully pre-booked (Seven Hills has a mixture of pre-bookings and sign-ups on the day) so while I could contact my players before the game and get them to pick Playbooks, instead I’m just going to restrict them. The Met’s Occult Crime Squad (OCS) is pretty much “The Unexplained Cases Team” described in the rules, so I’m going to have the following playbooks for the four players to choose from:

  • the Professional, as the liaison with the regular police force and assumed ‘leader’ of the team. The Professional gets to design the Agency; we’ll do this at the table for the OCS, with this player having final say.
  • the Mundane – I see this as a newly-assigned regular policeman who, perhaps due to some administrative error, has ended up investigating vampires and werewolves in London
  • the Spooky, for the Rivers of London reference I think it helps if there’s someone who can actually do “magic” on the team
  • the Expert, another character with a different flavour of magic who can handle research and occult investigation

The other suggestions for the Case Team (the Flake, Wronged, and Crooked) don’t really grab me as fitting as neatly with the concept; I think if I had 5 players I’d include the Crooked, as a streetside contact, but the other two just don’t seem British enough.

I plan that the players will pick their playbooks, do the prep associated with them in their History, and then we’ll go round and make up some friendly NPCs and contacts, either back at the office or out on the streets. I kinds see the OCS as being just the four characters here out in the field, so the problems they encounter are for the players to solve themselves.

The Rest of The Prep

I’ve got as far as working out what I’ve done and need to do for the game; I’ve printed out the Basic Moves and Playbooks, and the lyrics to the song to inform the rest of my prep. I’m going to be following the regular Mystery Creation guidance in MOTW, and then get a list of locations that could appear in the mystery.

After the players have done their playbooks, they’ll each be describing a couple of NPCs and a location that’s important to them, and when they’ve done that we’ll take a 10 minute break and I’ll check that I can target these NPCs and places as much as possible. MOTW includes “Classic Werewolf” stats which I’ll adapt for the likely antagonists, and I’m going to have a think about possible weaknesses / foibles for the likely opponents as well. I’m also going to try to work out some pictures for the players to pick from, and I’ve been trawling through websites on The Bill to get hold of these – but this goes down under “extra prep” – it’d be a nice touch to have it, but I don’t need it done before I start running the game – so I’ll see how much time I have to do it.

I’ll post the rest of my prep around this time next week, along with a report of how it goes – but for now those notes need to be kept hidden from my players! Is there anything you’d do differently, or that I’ve missed?

The Most Important Advice for Running Games at Conventions

I run a lot of games at conventions, and I play in a lot of games at conventions, and I enjoy it. There’s lots of advice around about running convention games (this set of forum posts from UK Roleplayers, for instance – also applies outside the UK, or Conventional Wisdom from the lovely Baz Stevens is also a good place to start) – but the most important advice I’d give to anyone running a game for a group of strangers has nothing to do with the game being run. It isn’t about hit points or armour class, it’s about spending 3-4 hours comfortably with 4-6 other human adults. Below would be what I consider to be the most important rules for comfortable convention play:

Introduce Everybody

Start by checking that everybody’s in the right game. I like to leave my rulebook / character sheets out before the game so that if people wander up or arrive early, they can reassure themselves they are in the right place.

Then introduce yourself – your name, and that you’ll be running the game. Ask everyone to introduce themselves around the table and make sure they do this sensibly. Even if most of you know each other. Especially if most of you know each other. Pay attention to anyone who is new to the convention – sitting at a new game with complete strangers can be a terrifying experience! By managing this interaction and when the introductions pass around the table, you also get to read the energy of the table – who’s loud and will need moderating to put that constructively, who’s quiet and will need bringing out, who is tired and will need waking up.

At this point I sometimes ask and see if we should move folks around – conventions can be noisy places, and if you’ve even got minor hearing issues it can be much easier if they are sat next to the GM – and if everyone knows they need to speak clearly. Likewise any quieter players usually do better if they are next to the GM, where more forthright players can be at the opposite end of the table and still engage fully with the game.

Introduce the Game

Ask if anyone has played the system before. Don’t ask “Has anyone not played Savage Worlds before?” and make it even more uncomfortable for the new guy who hasn’t even played Savage Worlds before, and who has already been put off by Steve’s Monty Python jokes. Don’t make obscure references to systems (“this is like the OSR version of Mouse Guard with Aspects from FATE”) to make them even more obscure. You might need to explain genre and tone, but no more (by the way, there’s some great advice on setting a serious tone here; the blog is focussed on Symbaroum, the Swedish-designed game of grimdark fantasy, but the advice applies generally). This is also the time to talk about lines and veils if your game might explore adult themes.

Tell them what dice they need, and check if people have dice. Put some pencils (or dry white pens for your fancy laminated character sheets!) out and let people take them. Don’t roll your eyes if anyone doesn’t have dice, or pencils, or any paper. Just have some – if your name’s on the top of the signup sheet, it’s your job to bring spares.

Tell them the timings for the session. Tell them you’re going to have breaks in the game (more on that later) but that if they need a comfort break they should just go. There’s nothing more awkward than having an adult ask to go to the toilet (well, apart from a GM tell them they can’t.)

Give one-sentence descriptions of the pregens and manage the players choosing them. If you’ve got some PCs that require a bit more system knowledge to play, steer the right players towards them, as per this. Manage the players if there’s any uncomfortableness in sharing out the pregens.

Introduce the System – Tour the Character Sheet

Once the players have their PCs, you need to introduce the system. This needs to be as swift and minimal as possible while still leaving players knowing some basics of what they do; the easiest way I’ve found is to do a tour of the character sheet; pick the spare pregen you brought (you did bring one, right? You always should…) and tell them what each bit means. Because your prep is awesome, anything specific to the character will already be explained on the sheet, so don’t dwell on that. Because the right player has the wizard, you won’t need to explain the magic system to everybody. Do this quickly but without rushing, and field any questions players might have.

Take Breaks

Now, go – start running the game! About an hour in, at an appropriate time in-game (often this is after the first conflict and the players have learned the basic premise of the game), take a break. Use the bathroom, get a coffee, check everyone’s okay; field any developing rules questions players might have now so they don’t interrupt play.

This last rule sounds like the simplest of this list of simple rules, but it’s the one I most often see ignored. You just can’t keep playing at a decent intensity for 3-4 hours without some breathing space. If you don’t schedule this space, your players will take it anyway – either by just wandering off to use the toilet, or having off-topic discussions and checking their phones. So schedule a break. Because I’m an awkward player, I’ll ask for one if my GM doesn’t give me one.

Now, of course, these aren’t “rules” anymore than what I think works and doesn’t work. But it surprises me how often the fairly basic spirit of these rules isn’t followed by people running games at conventions. It’s the player’s responsibility too, for sure, but if you’re running the game and it’s your name at the top of the sign up sheet, you’ve got more responsibility for making sure everyone is comfortable – even if you’re facilitating a GMless game like Fiasco or Melancholy Kaiju. Are there any others you think I might have missed off? Or any you disagree with? Stick ’em in the comment below and I’ll agree, or argue, with you!

Under The ‘Hood – Lanchester Set-Up

In this post, I promised I’d share my actual prep sheet for the game of The ‘Hood that I ran at Revelation. To recap what I did in advance of the con, I knew my players had prebooked so had them pick playbooks on a loose premise of a northern town estate.

When I had that, I read the playbooks properly that they’d picked and bashed out the text below as a rough guide to what I needed to remember on the day. I’d imagine there’s probably enough for somebody else to use, although if it’s your first time I’m not sure if the combination of playbooks makes either the MC or the players’ jobs easier – The Matriarch and The Bastion are both ‘support’-y characters, while The Blur messes around with The Heat mechanic in a way that might make it tricky to pick up.

I should also mention, before sharing the setup below, that the most important piece of prep I did was to get myself in a game of The ‘Hood run by somebody else who knew their stuff – in this case James Mullen, the game’s designer.

The Hood: Lanchester

A piss-poor, former mining town somewhere in the North of England. The dizzy metropolis and bright lights of Sheffield and Leeds yawn off in the distance, but up here it’s pretty much as it’s been since the 1980s… you keep your heads above water, you scratch each other’s backs, you try and keep the cops off your back. It’s a hard knock life.

The PCs:

 The Bastion

  • Operating out of a greasy spoon.
  • Pick 3 NPCs that are part of your crew (your regulars)
  • Who is causing the most trouble for you at the moment, and why?

The Blur

  • Can tipp-ex out other PCs heat
  • Pick 3 scams that you have been, or are, running to keep ends meet
  • Which scam is currently causing you the biggest headache, and why?

The Matriarch

  • Pick 3 NPCs who are your kids
  • Why are they each in trouble?

The Fallen

  • Name your partner, plus 2 other NPCs who you are in cahoots with – one from The Bastion, one from The Matriarch
  • Which of them has been giving you grief recently, and why?

SetUp

  • Everyone begins with 2 Heat and 3 Experience
  • Explain / negotiate how they got this – it’s probably linked to their love letters established previously
  • Draw a big street name on a sheet; everyone goes round and adds their home street onto it
  • Everyone labels their home on the sheet; The Bastion gets to label his base as well.
  • Then add each of these locations inturn:
    • Corner shop
    • Church
    • The pub
    • The bookies
    • The health centre
    • The skate park
    • ….
  • Then list any important locations that aren’t there; these become locations outside of the Hood.
  • Each location should have an NPC attached to it – these can be the NPCs established  previously

Establish The Threat: Thin Rob, a cockney in a stolen suit

He represents a Syndicate – East End gangsters from the big city looking to put the screws on Landchester to get their dues. Him and his two lackeys, Dave Small and Eric the Beast, start moving around the hood.

They figure that they first need to try and get rid of any movers and shakers around the area, so will make the PCs an offer they can’t refuse… a tip off to hold up the corner shop in the next town over, West Ealing. They say the cameras haven’t worked for months, and they don’t clear the tills at the end of every night, so there should be a decent raid money available. For a cut (10%) they’ll let the PCs have the info, gratis, along with their operator, Ivan, who will check the cameras are off.

Naturally they will set up the PCs – the cops will be tipped off as soon as they carry out the raid, botched as it is likely to be.

Following this, they carry out moves as established to move the PCs out and take over the turf of the Hood, as per the rules in the main rulebook:

  • Make an offer to go into business (as above, or they start paying off the Bastion to use his greasy spoon to hold their meetings)
  • Take down a resident of the Hood (the biggest fish apart from the PCs – make it a beloved NPC first, then one of the Matriach’s kids)
  • Threaten to cause pain (as above)
  • Operate in the Hood (start selling grass outside the corner shop, meat in the pub, that sort of thing. 
  • Provide what’s needed, at a price (when the chips are down, they’ll offer to save the PCs, or their loved ones, skins, in return for a leg up, all honest-like in Lanchester).

 

Making the Crunchy Smooth – 5 tips for running system-heavy one-shot games

Quite often, I run fairly crunchy systems as one-shots or at cons. Part of this, I guess, is that I like to see the moving parts work out – it’s also about giving people what they want, as often if people want to try out a new game it’s to see what the mechanics are like. If you’ve only got 3 hours to get people up to speed with a new game, you’ve got to have a plan for it. Here are a few tips that I’ve used successfully for a few system-heavy games:

Tip 1: Make sure you actually know the rules

This sounds obvious, but every time I’ve had disappointing games at cons, this has been an issue, crunch or not.

The best way to learn the rules is to convince somebody who knows the rules to run a game for you. This is ideal, but not always practical.

The second best way to learn the rules yourself (as well as making the pregens, which you’ll presumably do as well) is to condense them onto a one-page handout for players. For games that I’ve run more than once I have a folder of handout stuff – I have a Mouse Guard handout of how to spend Fate and Persona points (the game’s bennies/fate points – a finite resource to aid actions) because if you don’t remind players they can spend them they don’t, and making unskilled rolls using Nature, because that seems to come up a lot and it helps players to have an understanding of what they need to do with it. When I run 13th Age, I have a one-page description of the Icons so players can reference what they might be able to use their Icon rolls for.

Tip 2: Do your own pregen PCs with everything on the sheets

It takes time, but when you’re creating characters, add a note for what each special power / trait actually does – likewise generate any secondary statistics like combat damage in advance and put it on the sheet. You don’t really want to be looking up what Medichines are when you’re in the middle of running Eclipse Phase, or have your players interrupting your flow to ask what Frenzy actually does.

On the subject of pregens, it’s worth having a few ‘easy to play’ characters if your crunchy system allows that. For instance, in 13th Age, I always throw in a Barbarian and a Ranger, as these are the easiest (and some of the most fun!) classes to play. Likewise, you can put in a Wizard or a Sorcerer, but it’s usually worth getting a player who either enjoys getting their hands in the cogs of the system or has played it before. Note to GMs: I’m one of those players.

Tip 3: Give your players a training level

One of the most obvious steals from video games design is to give players a chance to see the rules in action fairly soon. For most systems, this means you want some skill checks to get your head around the system followed by a short combat against low-challenge adversaries where lack of system knowledge or sub-optimal choices won’t make much of a difference.

If you really want to simplify it, start the game on rails. I ran a Mouse Guard game once where the PCs began captured by weasels, and were immediately ‘rescued’ and had to sneak out – so they had a check to sneak past the guards, a check to climb the walls, and then a short combat with the final guards on the gates – I did it so they didn’t have to even really think about what their PCs were going to do – leaving all their attention on learning the system. After that first scene they had meaningful choices and could start to have some engagement with the world, but – like the first level in a video game – first they learned what the system was, what the stakes were, and what danger felt like in terms of dice and numbers on sheets.

Tip 4: Use your players – at least, use some of them

The first thing I do when I sit down to run a crunchy system is scan my players, and identify the players that have either played before or are willing to get their hands into the system. Those players not only get guided towards playing the more complex PCs, they also almost invariably get my copy of the rulebook. And usually get asked to look up stuff later in the game; if I can possibly avoid having the book in my hand during the game I will, and that includes getting players to do my dirty work for me.

Tip 5: Use the rules your players want to see

While I’m a great believer that if you’re running a game at a con, you should actually run the game, it pays to have some idea of what  crunch is an interesting part of the game and what isn’t. For example, I’d hate to see a Mouse Guard game without the scripted combat feature, because it’s a unique element of the game… using Factors to work out difficulty for skill checks, I’m afraid, isn’t, and I’ve never used it in one-shots. I’ve just picked a difficulty for the task at hand based on what felt right (usually Ob3, if you’re familiar with the system). Similarly, if you’re running a Star Wars FFG game for me, I’ll be disappointed if you’re not using the RAW initiative system, because it’s an embedded feature of the game… using the Duty / Motivation system at the start of the session, I’m not really bothered about, as it’s not likely to come up in a one-shot anyway for more than one PC.

To summarise, all of these tips basically come back to the first one – you need to know your game, which is probably the first piece of advice for running any one-shot game. You won’t have time to learn it at the same time as the players, which you might have if you are running an ongoing campaign. What other tips do you have for running crunchy systems as one-shots?

Under The ‘Hood – PBTA One-Shots

A few weeks ago I ran a one-shot game of James Mullen’s The ‘Hood at Revelation in Sheffield, a convention devoted entirely to Powered by the Apocalypse (PBTA) games. Now, to read over the internet, PBTA games come with some very clear received wisdom about them – that they work best over a short to mid-length campaign, allowing for character development, deepening relationships, and a sense of engagement with some of the longer-term moves. I guess that’s why at cons you often see them in linked 2- or 3-slot mini-campaigns, rather than in stand-alone 4 hour slots.

Myself, I’ve struggled a bit with running these games before at conventions – the lack of prep and ‘play to see what happens’ left me on edge in a game of Monsterhearts that I ran a few years ago – it worked, I think, but I felt two steps away from a cliff of not knowing what would happen at all times, having to dance around on my feet to keep an interesting plot around the PCs. Running The ‘Hood (and some games in between), I modestly think I might have cracked some of these ‘myths’ about PBTA games, and about some of the ways they can work in a 3 hour slot.

Myth 1: A one-shot PBTA game will not be a satisfying experience – FALSE

You do need to do some legwork to make this happen, but there are a few straightforward tricks that work for this.

(a) Start the PCs on 3 experience. A couple of failed rolls / hitting triggers, and somebody is going to get an Advancement after about an hour, particularly if you’ve got XP on failure and they are rolling poorly. Advancement is a great feature of PBTA games, and really easy for players to do, and this brings it into the mix and makes it an actual feature of the game.

(b) Start the PCs with some ‘trouble’. In The ‘Hood, you have a Heat track that measures – I guess – social damage, how much trouble you’re in. When it hits 5, you’re in over your head and out of the game – arrested, killed, whatever. After seeing James Mullen do this in a game at Spaghetti Conjunction previously, I started everyone on 2 Heat. It meant that this was a credible threat, and somebody did get Burned by the end of the 3 Hour session. I know that the team behind Urban Shadows have given similar advice about Corruption moves – make sure the players start with some Corruption.

(c) Love Letters. These originated (in the heady days when the only PBTA game was, well, Apocalypse World) as letters to each player asking them about what they’d been doing previously, often with a move attached or some game choices to embed them in a situation. This seemed awkward in my game not knowing much about how the players had imagined their characters, so I went with a few scripted questions to cement them in some ongoing plots – you’ll see them on my prep sheet which I’ll be posting here next week. On the day I didn’t use all of them – but I had them ready to add more stuff.

Myth 2: You should do zero prep in advance of running a PBTA game, and “play to see what happens” – FALSE

I’m completely behind the idea that a plotted adventure will lead to a not-satisfying PBTA experience, and I’ve played in a few where this happened – games where we were playing a traditional game with a rules-light 2d6 system and a lot of handwavey stuff around initiative and other implicit elements of traditional games. But you can do situations, and lists, and stuff. Some games in advance of Revelation tried to get players to do pre-game setup, but I just went as far as getting them to pick playbooks. This was really useful for me, because I could then work out some ‘love letter’ type things and come up with a very basic plot – a dubious collection mission for some bailiffs with no questions asked – and a few NPCs.

I did all the Neighbourhood design stuff in The ‘Hood at the table – I put out a big piece of paper and we followed the game’s procedures to design the immediate setting and some juicy NPCs. Then as the loose plot set off – based from a hard-framed starting scene – I just used these NPCs whenever I could.

So, to put some detail on it, I had a patron / antagonist approach them and offer them the job – I imagined this would be in the PC’s local boozer, and had some idea what that would look like. By asking questions of the players and putting their NPCs (established in setup), this happened during the pub quiz that The Matriarch was running, where The Fallen (a corrupt policeman playbook) was out having an awkward drink with his do-gooding partner and her friend – a newly-working-in-the are social worker who was onto The Blur’s scam running at the old folks’ home down the road. I made sure they were all in the same location by just saying to the players that we were going to all start in the pub and letting them work out why and how they were there – from which it emerged that The Matriarch obviously ran the quiz every week.

Myth 3. PvP interactions are part and parcel of PBTA games – well, actually, TRUE

Unless maybe you’re playing Dungeon World, but even then there’s a lot of scope for ‘soft’ PVP where the party will end up making decisions that some players aren’t happy with. There are some ways to try and moderate the game from going full blood opera, though – mainly by having obviously antagonistic NPCs (to all or just some of the players) that mean the players will head for them first rather than immediately turning on each other.

On the subject of NPCs, I think that probably 2-3 per PC is probably enough – you won’t use them all, but it’s worth giving some options so you can see which ones are most interesting. All of my NPCs, apart from the antagonist, were created with the players – and this meant they were much more interesting than I could have created.

I do think that you’d do well to make it clear that PVP might happen at the start of (or even in advance of) the game – some players really don’t like it and will have a poor experience playing if it features – and it’s good to give players permission to do things like this to avoid any awkwardness if they think one of the players is just being annoying.

To finish up, a few other quick observations:

4. You need to print out enough Basic Moves sheets for everyone at the table to have one – including yourself. Sounds obvious, but you really really need to do this!

5. Restricting the playbooks is fine, and makes your prep easier if you don’t have the luxury of pre-booked players you can get to choose in advance, but I’d really recommend doing character generation at the table, as well as any procedural setup to do with relationships / bonds / other players – it’s worth spending a decent chunk of your play time on this, because it’ll make the rest of it better. In a 3 hour session, we spent about 50 minutes doing setup – then had a 10 minute break for me to look back and my prep and work out where their NPCs fitted in – and then played for 2 hours.

As I said, the game went well, and I’ll certainly be running it – and other PBTA games – at conventions again. What are your experiences of PBTA one-shot games, and is there any further advice I’ve missed? Next week, I’ll share my actual prep notes for the game – all 2 pages of them.

 

Burn after running?

So, here’s what this is. There are a lot of RPG blogs out here, and this one is focussed entirely on one thing: one-shot play. 

Time was, I used to play RPGs like everyone else did – I met up with mates once a week, and we played truly epic campaigns. Their epic status was undoubtably exaggerated in our youthful minds; truth be told, if we managed to run a game for 4 weeks with the same roster of players, or without the GM losing interest, we were doing well. We’d do that annoying false start thing that I’m sure many of you have done, where you get a game pitched, spend the first session making up characters, and then next week end up playing a board game, either due to player (or GM) absence or just because the enthusiasm has waned. I tried to continue this when I got back to gaming in my adult life, and had a similar issue to before, only now it was our actual adult lives that got in the way of it. Often, a Wednesday evening pretending to be elves was just a bit too much trouble, especially when the other lives of five or six other busy adults interfered with it,

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with playing like this, and I’m not saying that lots of gamers out there manage to run weekly campaigns more efficiently than any of the groups I used to play in. But I don’t game like that any more. I run, and play, one-shots. I run a monthly meet-up that’s exclusively for one-shot RPGs, and I go to lots of conventions. Sometimes, these get stretched, and end up being episodes in short campaigns, but that’s as often as not organic rather than planned; it’s been many years since I’ve planned a game session to last longer than 4-5 hours.

And I like it; it means I get to play, and run, lots of systems, and with the right approaches the one-shot games can be just as epic and meaningful as the lengthy campaigns I used to yearn to play. You just have to change your play style a bit. And I am now an active participant in a hobby that I (and I’m sure many other lapsed RPGers) used to think I didn’t have time for.

So, this blog will contain posts focussed on playing, running, and prepping one-shot tabletop RPG sessions. All systems, all tastes. There will be reviews, musings, after-action reports, and even actual game prep notes shared (I tend to be pretty minimalist in my prep style these days, but it’s always good to see what other people do to get ready). And other stuff – if there’s anything you’d like to see me write about, feel free to post in the comments below.