Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Distant Inheritance 14

14: Quick Note on actual play

Today’s blog post is going to be shorter than normal just because for blog navigation purposes I don’t want to make the same mistake for February that I made in January and place the first post on the last day of the previous month. Hence a little more Hobbit ramblings.

At this point I have run one session of the game which involved character creation and the first ‘session’ – A Long Planned Party – which went very well as first sessions go. Character creation was smooth enough, people grasped the mechanics and the encounters all went about as I expected if not better.

As I commented earlier my play group is two adult gamer parents and three kids aged 8 to 13. One of the parents noted that 8 was the age when he first started playing with his cousins and just basically rolled what dice he was told to and only grasped the edges of what was going on. By 10 he was starting to understand the rules and concepts but he doesn’t really remember anything campaigns he was in before he turned 12. As such we have the whole ‘young gamer’ spectrum on display here. It’s interesting to watch.

For the younger players it’s good that I was modeling a known property as being able to give specific examples from the books/movies helped concretize what their characters could do. Dylan at age 8 really needed those explanations. Nick at age 13 could have things explained in game mechanics. Logan at 10 hovered somewhere in between. This is something to remember in the future since at least one more of the campaigns this year will be for this group of players.

One interesting moment in play was when Logan (age 10) asked why his dad ended up being the guy in charge telling them what to do. Jay (said dad) had to explain that the quest to recover the lost swords was _always_ going to be the plot and that this wasn’t like a video game where they could run around and do whatever they wanted. I wonder how much of this is generational (pre video game vs. post video game) and how much of it is age related with the older players gravitating to narrative.

I’m interested in people’s thoughts but I lean to the latter. I remember when I was first playing as a child there was a nice feeling of no restrictions in the game, where I could go anywhere and try anything and often did. I had tempered this by high school for the (to me) greater joys of narrative once I had been exposed to older players (who also had a theater background), but I do remember it.

I also think this is why the dungeon or even megadungeon environment is so important for groups made up of all young players. That environment is inherently restricting – the GM has already set the objective of “explore and loot this subterranean environment” but can leave all of the strategy and tactics up to the players. Depending on the game system this might mean doing so with a tightly confined set of character concepts or a wide open one but the GM is ceding a lot of control. I expect that sense of high high and minimal consequences is something that younger players would find attractive. (As well as older players. I’m not making this observation as any sort of slight to people who still like their high flexibility megadungeons, it’s just not the direction I or my group went as we aged.)

In any event this tells me that I might want to shorten what I had planned for the next campaign for this group, which I had intended to be 8 months of LSH style supers adventures, and include a low narrative megadungeon environment. That would give me an excuse to tear A/O D&D down to its guts and rebuild it to my preferences, which is always a fun way to spend a rainy afternoon.

As to the play itself a few things happened in harmony with the written adventure and some things I had to add on the fly based on character flagging. Since Kris had taken the Third Eye template that meant I needed to add a ghostly figure in the burned out inn. The whole place had a spooky vibe anyway so I might as well make it a legitimately spooky vibe. The ghost directed her PC to some hidden papers that were a narrative of the innkeeper’s concerns about Zegor the Canny acting in the area, and how knowing of this at all put his life at risk. The PCs were going to learn about Zegor next session so this decision just accelerated things and let Kris have a neat character moment.

When it came to the encounter with the Nokken I was lucky in two ways:

First, the high Education Wizard with Water Lore PC was the one who had left to go secure firewood with a couple company members and wasn’t there for the original encounter. I couldn’t have asked for that to go better as the Wizard got to not disrupt the scene and sound smart when he came back.

Second, the two prince PCs (the two adult players) had taken Horse related specialties, making the prospect of a really cool horse very tempting. Both also acted in character, disregarding their own knowledge of Scandinavian and Celtic myth to avoid the fact that this was a really bad idea. With the princes captured most of their company dove in to rescue them and got captured. This left the other non-adult players having to figure out what to do, which was what I had really wanted from the scene.

To top it off I then got to have one of the company squires try to usurp control as the people who were left on land were the crazy wizard, the hobbit contractor and the… girl. When Nick’s female PC started issuing orders he contradicted her. Nick tried a Lineage roll to overcome that, got nowhere and then just whacked the squire in the face with the half of her battleaxe (for the +2d surprise bonus) and kept issuing commands while said squire was dazed in the dirt. Everyone was very happy with the moment.

OK, starting next month, Heroes of the United Worlds!