Thursday, February 11, 2016

Carpe Blogiem: Session Writeups and Criteria


So this is something that +Peter V. Dell'Orto+Douglas Cole, and others have been talking a lot about lately. (See here, here, here, and here.) So I've been thinking about what Peter said here and here's my feeling on it.

Omniscient GM Perspective
I like to write from this perspective - so I'm done with this.

After Action Reports (AARs)
I don't do this because I rather dislike injecting game stuff into what is supposed to be a field report for me to reference later on.

Rules Commentary/Reflections on the Rules
This...I should do more. And I will.

Maps and pictures
Ditto.

Cast of characters
I do this - Peter actually got me doing this when I started running Dungeon Fantasy more. It's quite useful.

Matter-of-fact Summaries
I tend toward the fiction side of session reports, but really, I should be more matter of fact. It should read like a summary of all events that occurred in as objective a way as possible.

Notes
I need to do this as well. A whole section on how this could or that could have gone better is needed I think.

In-Character Writeups
I don't do this for two reasons: 1) My players do not like sharing their characters out like this. To them roleplaying is a personal experience and showing their characters off is like having that dream where you are naked in school and about to take a test; 2) I'm too lazy to do the write-up. It's doubtful that write-ups are even going to be useful to others in the first place. This is GURPS - creating characters for fun is what 80% of GURPS gamers do.

Fiction
I'm guilty of this one and as I stated above I need to stop.


Changes I'm Going to Make
So there has been a conspicuous absence of gaming recaps on my blog for my Aeon campaign for GURPS. There is a reason - mainly +Douglas Cole is doing the write-ups for me so I can concentrate on other stuff (thanks again for that, Doug, it's been helping a lot). When I do start running my A-Team game (and any other games after that) I'll be posting in a new format style. There are a couple reasons for this, but mostly it's because I think I can slip in some useful GMing advice in my session recaps. So here's my new format:

Dramatis Persona List:
[Name aka Name][PC or NPC - Ally, Contact, or Patron][Brief Profile INformation]

[Session Recap - including time, date, and location for various entries as well as the occasional game mechanical note in brackets, footnotes, and appropriate picture or photograph]

[Gamemaster Observations]

[After Action Report/Rules Notes]

[Session Soundtrack]


Aeon B-Team Episodes 1-5 Gamemaster Observations
So far the players have done a rather impressive job of capturing the feel of a superheroes setting without going full camp. It genuinely feels like I could drop the game in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and it wouldn't "feel" to far off. This is a good thing. I laid down guidelines for my players and they have so far followed the spirit and the letter. As a GM that gives me all sorts of warm fuzzies inside.

Doug has done a rather decent job of leading them, even though they aren't acting like the team they could shape up to be. Again, this is spot-on for the genre - they've got raw chemistry, but they haven't worked at it yet. Compare it to the first Avengers film with Age of Ultron, in particular where they fight together at the Battle of New York vs. the scene where Cap says "Ohh they're lining up" and then Thor bangs Mjolnir against Cap's shield and just obliterates the bad guys. That's the difference I'm talking about here.  I offered them a "half off" special on buying Coordinated Action 1 and Teamwork (which they all took) when they were allowed to upgrade after Session 3 so I expect to see something interesting there.

The players are all between 900 to 1,200 points at the moment and yet they all feel about the same level. This is probably because when they were creating their characters I made sure they either concentrated in a couple of areas and had lower point totals or multiple (needed) areas and had higher point totals. This is why as a GM you must be directly involved with the player character creation. Not doing so invites disaster. Just don't do it. I'll also take a guess at one of the two things you are thinking: "But, Christopher, how do you get your players to agree to varying point totals!?" Well, I don't get them to agree. I tell them this is how it is and will be and make them a promise that no one character will totally outshine the others. I keep this promise by adding traits that are needed for the concept and just ignore the point value.

Which leads me to your next question: "How the hell do you challenge something that's a 1,000 points?" First, you're using the wrong word there. I don't think it means what you think it means. Roleplaying games for most people are not about "challenge," but fun. So how do 1,000 point characters have fun? Well, I don't really have room for that in this post, but essentially, you let the players be awesome. If you have a speedster let him dodge everything. Let the brick smash stuff. Let the PCs do their thing. Then, when you want to "challenge" them you take them completely out of their element and see what happens. Trust me, it works.


Aeon B-Team Episodes 1-5 After Action Reports/Rules Notes
The first session went much like I thought it would except the player tactics were terrible - they let Vortex gain his "final form" and that was a mistake. One thing they did do right was have the Rat Queen - +Emily Smirle's character - "face tank" the bad guy while everyone else figured out how to deal with him. It worked. It took two sessions, but it worked.

One sheer moment of awesome happened in Session 2 when +Kyle Norton's character "Eamon Finnegan" aka "The Suit" (he's a lawyer and metahuman right's activist with gravity and density manipulation abilities) managed to lawyerspeak a two-star general back into his black helicopter. It was made even more ludicrous because Kyle himself was absent a few minutes and literally came back just in time to interject himself into the conversation. Do not mess with lawyers - they will sue you and use Lawyerspeak (a Stunning Affliction). It will suck. Don't let them. First thing you do is kill all the lawyers.

Session 3 involved heading to Riker's Island where the impetus of the campaign began: the prisoners escaped and they're still wondering how. This session was also another where I took a great risk: I disguised one of the inmates as a guard and then played it out. I gave out subtle hints - the psuedo-guard sang a British song in a British accent, he was unduly helpful, and when the PCs won he offered to escort one of their prisoners upstairs. When they realized they were duped the prisoner had already escaped.

One thing I did in Session 4 that I was really unsure of was the concept of a temporary temporal paradox aka "Groundhoging." I did it anyways and held my breath...but it apparently worked quite well. The way I did it was I didn't tell the players what they were getting into at all - I let them figure it out after the first reset. Then I singled out a single PC to be Phil Connors (in this case, Merlin, the player of our resident speedster) and then relied on the players to do the rest. It worked. Every time there was a reset I'd say "Okay, so Merlin, your character suddenly feels like he's being tugged and slammed into a wall...then you wake up in your cot on Riker's" or something like it. Having Merlin (in character) try to explain what was going on was so hilarious the game stalled out at just about every reset. They finally figured out what was going on after about eight resets. (I had mentally set a max of 10 resets for the game - anymore past that and it bogs unless the resets are quick.) The risk was great, but in the end it worked and we were all rewarded with a awesome game session.

Session 5 was equally fun, with Emily trying to use a Trip attack against a speedster with a magical knife - it almost worked too. In the end the speedster was taken out by +GodBeastX - Merlin's character "Zephyr" also a speedster who used a powerful attack and managed to land a bunch of hits thinks to a natural 18 on the rival speedster's dodge roll. Another thing that happened during session 5 is something many GMs shy away from: making the players lose. I know what I said earlier about letting the players be awesome and that rule still stands, but sometimes they need to lose too. In this case a ridiculously powerful ferrokinetic - Battalion (a metahuman who has TK around 3,000 for metal only) - ripped +Christian Gelacio's character Arc Light's battlesuit in half. What Battalion (and the rest of the PCs) didn't know was that Arc Light is also a metahuman - an electrokinetic - and tased Battalion until he was unconscious. This has left one of the players without a key piece of gear/power. This follows my rule of "put them in situations they aren't suited for." We'll see how this plays out in the next session on Monday.


Picking Over the Bones
Overall, I've needed to revamp my Session Report style for a while now, I just revamped my GM Notes for story arcs with what I think is a innovative way to keep track of story plots so it's time for a report revamp as well. I like the new style I've come up with - I personally like the idea of a "soundtrack", but I'll be interested in what others think. Did I miss something important? Should I add anything to my write-up style? Any tips anyone has that they want to share with myself and others?

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