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MoonHunter Sayeth 20171225


Game Guru-Thread Shepherd
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One of my favorite game sessions and what we can learn from it

I was recently chatting with someone I met at a convention. She was a drop in on one of my Serenity Games, but never really joined the chronicle. Chatting with her reminded me of a conversation we had during one of those game.

Some backstory: I have been running some of my chronicles at conventions for 35+ years. The same group of people come from various parts of California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and some odd universities around the country, to play in these games. It has been Fringeworthy, Bureau 13 (for 22ish years for a huge group), Bushido, Champions, and Serenity/Firefly. Each chronicle games together one to four times a year at the major conventions here in the Bay Area. The last few years, I have been only running Serenity /Firefly. However due to some odd scheduling quirks and odd attendance, I ended up with two different crews/ chronicles running. This brings us back to the game I was running right then.
I had two crews that combined were fifteen players with characters of overlapping crew roles. I was combining the crews together with the story path/ scenario that was leading to one ship being removed from play, Crew 1s self made nemesis of Captain Montoya. (Not having a drink with the man to apologize for messing with his crew, converted a one off competition into this vengeful sociopath that motivated my players to do things quickly.) He would now be the nemesis for both crews as he killed off the beloved NPC captain of crew 2 and a few hangers on/ NPC crew of Crew 1. The end goal was combining the two crews physically and socially by your standard baptism under crossfire with a ticking imminent explosion. This isn't as fully relevant to the story as it could be, but give a GM (or any gamer) a chance to spiel about a favorite game and the chatter will go on.

My friend was between game and her shift as a convention volunteer. She had been watching this game from the beginning. She saw the set up and our some of the metagaming.

She also noticed that after our initial bit I was in and out of the room, sometimes watching the game or out getting water, and only occasionally resolving an occasional issue or die roll and not getting very involved.


She came up to me, "You have a game of fifteen people. They are all having a great game (it was all pretty animated). And you aren't doing anything".

I nodded. "I did a lot in the beginning. The rest is all in the staging and set up. Wind it up and watch it run. "

The group was clustered in groups of two to four, with some players wandering between watching others or opting out for a moment and getting food/ water/ checking on their game status.

"Take these two. They are both "Faces" for the different crews.

Originally, they were both competing as both crews were "running the same scam". So they ended up in the same place doing similar things, before all those explosions. When they were both in owner's office... dueling con-men... it was a great scene right? "

She nodded.

"Your fellow players are your best source of roleplay and challenge. They gives you lots of opportunities for "good play". If you are dependent on only NPCs and The GM, you only have one outlet of roleplay.

So while in group, it works out best if some of the characters have different points of view, applicable at different times. This provides some social drama in the group and conflict you can capitalize on. The characters should never life and death enemies or so oppositional they can not work together, a little adversarial is all you need. Bones and Spock or Wolverine and Cyclops or Batman and Superman, are good examples. They have different points of view. These two have slightly different view, but they share egotism in common. They are in competition.

Now that they are trapped on the ship and have to "work together", they are still competing. The Captain gave them a mission. They gave me a direction they were going. I set the stage, gave them a little stage direction and motivations. Now they both are currently competing with each other on who can get the things we need in a smoother fashion. They are technically working together, yet trying to sabotage each other. Remember, they are currently competing for who gets to be "the first officer".

"And those extra drama points", she added

Well yes. I set the expectations of the players early on. Originally each crew or section of the crew was competing with the other. The winner would get extra drama points (experience). After the crews combined, I told them all the "winner of the new crew's position" would get it. It is just a little incentive.

"So what about them?" She points to the other players - both ships engineers.

"They are not playing their characters right now. The engineering players decided "not to complete"... in fact, they decided to "be in love" and get married. So they resolved their competition without conflict and split the bonus drama points/ experience. They told me they are going to be bickering like an old married couple in engineering all the time... it is going to be their new shtick. It will be fun.

Anyways, rather than have them sit around and be bored because they were done, I put them to work. I gave them some new mini characters, a lot of stage direction, and put them in the way of the two Face. Notice they are all having a blast. They are going to get their own bonus drama points for being helpful and so much fun messing with The Faces. (I go on about this in the Orbit character blog post.)

I pointed to three other players, "The same with those three gun bunnies. They finished their bit and are being NPCs for the medical staff. Who would of thought our "under roleplaying gun staff" would be such hams?

Distributing the play gives people a chance to do new things and be involved when they would of been (potentially) bored watching. It gives me the GM the freedom to start other characters on their section of the mission or run parts like Blake's being a Blue Coat Spy (which we did outside the room by the hallway water cooler) without just leaving the players just sitting there doing very little. "

"But those other two are making stuff up."

"Yes, they are being "mini-GMs". As long as they don't go overboard, it will be fine. The GM is just another player, but with editorial controls. Other players can add little things to the game... items in a room, new places in the Verse (locations), extra conflicts, new NPCs - allies or enemies- from their past, and so on. All with the GM's permission of course, but that is just editorial control.

If the ships passes this way again, I am probably going to have those two reprise their NPC roles. Normally these kind of characters are disposable one shots. One advantage of handing out NPC roles is it gives you a chance to play things different than your regular character. Remember, NPCs and minor characters don't know they aren't the protagonists in the story. They can be interesting and complicated too. (They just can not overshadow the PCs by too much.)

I went back to listened in on one of the other groups. I actually moderated a bit. I threw a wrench into their lack of plans and that group fell into high gear.

"Why did you do that?"

"It was the 30 minute mark of the episode. That plotline need needed resolution. By keeping it framed as an episode, I know when to kick thing. Besides, they had stalled into hemming and hawing about what to do and were being reactionary. So, I gave them a "bang" of a plot complication and it will be done in just a few minutes. "

And it was. I GMed a little accidental combat, the characters yelled at each other for a bit, and it was all done. (But left some room for this conflict to flare up again... giving some more interesting stuff to play with.)

Now just after that, the Captain came up to me, Chili Dog in hand. He wanted to resolve his issue. He and the Navigator had been playing/ talking while getting food. They had deduced Blake's active Blue Coat status, based on character histories and one interesting coincidence. (The pilot was a ex-Blue Coat, not something he ever told anyone... he was just a downed piloted that "Serenity Valley Local Character" helped out.... Blake and him had passed in the night in the Alliance Military... and one coded transmission on an Alliance Frequency).

The players double checked with me, everything they had included or I had added to their character histories. Everything was correct, they thought they were right, and so they needed to figure out what to do with him. (Blake kept feeding other Browncoats and criminals to his superiors... he never turned in his crew.) The Captain gathered a bunch of crew together and.... they started that roleplay scene.

"Well that took longer than I expected," I said.

"How long has that crew been running?"

"Two and a half years, 10ish sessions."

"You have been planning that since the beginning?"

"It was only 10 session. I build on who they were, what they did, and yah. When Blake's player wanted something special for his character, it was right there. If you lay the ground work in early, you can get some impressive results with very little work. Just like in this game, you set it up... and you let the players loose on it. "

"If they don't get to it?"

"Then you ignore that dangling plot point until later or ignore that it existed. If it is something that needs to be known, you keep leaving bread crumbs that lead them back."

"Like the message?"


The rest of the game ended pretty much on note. The Crew was one. We had figured out who was going to be officer/ in charge in each section. Everyone knew everyone else and knew their characters. Oh and The crew had finished their job and set an Alliance Anti-Piracy task force on Montoya with his current course and heading.

Sure I didn't know exactly how it was going to happen or who was going to be "in charge".... I certainly didn't know that they were going to finally catch Blake and how that was going to play out... but I was interested in the destination and that they had fun/ interesting play on the way.

Note: Not the third act I was expecting, but... it was interesting. Blake's player thought it all was a blast (and surprised that he made it through alive).

Talking with her reminded me of the chronicle and this session. It was a great game that was like master class in GM technique. So here are some takeaways.

  • The more work you do in the beginning, the easier it will be down the line.
  • Set expectations early, revise them as the game goes on so there will be no misunderstandings.
  • Managing the players is more important than the managing the characters or the game in play.
  • Build upon what the Players give you. Hang possible plot points for them to follow up on. Keep track of plot elements they like or that they don't finish.
  • Plan for something interesting to do and some things you can throw at the players to ramp up the action or drama.
  • Have a beginning and ending in mind, with a couple of interesting stops in between. Work with the players and see what sticks.
  • Set up the session so that everyone will have something interesting to do at some point (those possible stops).
  • Nothing will ever go as planned. Have a map with roadmarks, not a solid plan or step by step directions. Adapt to your players, they will sometimes delight you, but they will always surprise you.
  • Set up the characters so they will be interesting roleplaying foils for each other. Remember that your fellow players will always be there to roleplay with, don't count on NPCs.
  • Use every storytelling trick at your disposal. Flashbacks. Cut Scenes. Multiple story threads at one time.
  • Set the scenes with description and action, give some stage direction, and let the players loose.
  • Use your other players. If they aren't running their characters, have them run some of yours... or be mini-GMs. It lets you have more action going at one time and something for everyone to do. It really does make the game go faster
  • Using your other players works with as few players as three or four.
  • Framing the session as an episode (or movie or comic book) can give you a sense of when things should reach a hard plotpoint and need a kick to get done.
  • Help your players "get it done". Don't frustrate them, but don't make it easy either.

(*1) This is fairly close to the conversation we had. Yes, I do talk like a character in an Isaac Asimov story... too academic for anyone's good and I tend to explain everything.
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