Wednesday, June 22, 2016

One Sheet failures, Seven Deadly Sins and Fuhgeddaboudit!

It's been forever since I last wrote a blog. Between writing for +Just Insert Imagination, running two play-test groups for an upcoming products for JII, running games, filling in for Blaine on the Wild Die Podcast and my rekindled addiction to Civilization V, there has been very little time for blogging.
Speaking of the +The Wild Die Podcast... Episode 7 was supposed to be about convention games and encounter building but we ran out of recording time because we had so much fun doing the crossover show with the Savage Cast podcast guys. So episode 7 became the crossover show and the content we had planned for it will become episode 8. I also hear from a good source that Blaine will be able to join us for that one so I'm excited about that.
I was itching to tackle these topics, and having to wait another month to talk about it hasn't helped. So I decided to write blogs about it. There are a few challenges when running a convention or one-shot game and I intend to share my take on these issues and how I deal with them. Fuhgeddaboudit! is in a way the culmination of my efforts after years of experimentation.
If you've read Fuhgeddaboudit!, I'm sure you've noticed it has a different format then the popular One Sheets Pinnacles Entertainment and several other licensee put out. There are a few reasons for that.
I believe that a One Sheet is a solid framework to use for an evening a play, but it often has a "story" arc that spans over more than one session of play. It all depends how many hours you have committed to the session, how many players you have and their familiarity with role-playing games or Savage Worlds, and the environment you'll be playing in. It's very difficult for a designer to account for all these factors when the scenes escalating to the climax are all mapped out for you. Too often I've found myself half-way with a half-hour left to play. You're then faced with the dilemma: should I hurry things along and skip a scene or two, or should I end it when it ends, without the group playing the climax scene and maybe narrating that scene as an epilogue?
The introduction of the Quick Combat rules sure give a GM one more weapon in his arsenal to deal with the situation. I haven't used it yet but look forward to the opportunity.
The other thing about One Sheets is that you, as the GM, still need to do some work before you can play it. Often times you have to come up with your own hook. I believe a One Sheet is more a scenario so introduce in your own campaign than a one-shot or convention game scenario. It can certainly be the case but like I said, you'll need to do some work. Then you might need maps, figure flats or minis, pre-gens, etc.
In the end, unless you have no problem totally railroading the adventure, you'll realize you had to improvise for most of the session anyway because the group went in another direction than what the designer had planned. Is that a failure on the part of the GM or adventure writer? Could be. Having read how other RPG systems design their adventures, I believe in it's the format. The adventure writer needs to give the GM the information he needs to run the scenario, not a synopsis of how he believes it may turn out. Does that make sense?
While a veteran GM will usually look at a One Sheet and know how to make it work for his game, a novice GM won't. It lacks instructions due to limited space. Even I, as a long time GM, sometimes need the designer to hold my hand and guide me. How should I run this? Why did you chose to do it that way? One thing I really liked about Shaintar is how Sean Patrick Fannon talks to you throughout the book with the sidebars. He tells you why he chose to design something that way and gives you tips. As a GM I definitely appreciate that.
In recognizing what I believe are failures when it comes to One Sheets design I also recognized my own failures in the design of Fuhgeddaboudit!. When someone commented that we gave them too little to work with I immediately went on the defensive. "Really? five pre-gen characters, three maps, npc stats, setting rules, twice the length of a One Sheet, pay-what-you-want and it still isn't enough?" But after taking some distance and looking at it from the commentator's perspective I realized that this sandbox adventure needed a more thorough instruction manual or an example on how to put everything together and make it a scenario.
So while there's an actual play video here of me running Fuhgeddaboudit! and another one from +JPierson71 coming soon, I want to break it all down into a step by step example in a written format. Hopefully you'll get to understand what went on in my head when I designed and ran it. Look for it in the days (or weeks) to come.

So let's start with the beginning...

The Hook

What I feel is often neglected for a one-shot or convention game is the hook. What motivates the player-characters to jump in and risk their lives? It's easy to use the old trick that involves some dude paying the player-characters or a plea from a desperate and helpless NPC. It works, after all, the players have come to the table to play and they'd be fools to be difficult if they want to participate.
Remember, you don't have 10 sessions of a campaign to help you with the PC's motivations here. You most likely don't know who's going to sit at your table so you don't know which strings to pull. However, if you can manage to get them hooked and buy into the scenario right off the bat, the rest of the game will be much easier for you. So how do you do that?
You need to look no further than the Seven Deadly Sins. Pride, Envy, Wrath, Gluttony, Lust, Sloth and Greed.
Gluttony and Greed are the easy ones. The heroes want more gold so you give them more than they can carry. However, it's a one-shot, what the hell do they need gold for?
Last month I ran a Deadlands one-shot online called Pedro Must Die. I ripped parts out of a South of the Border Tale called Bat God, added an introductory scene involving npc interaction and changed the hook from Gluttony/Greed (going to a burial site full of riches) to Wrath. Here's the pitch: "He took your money and left you to die. He high tailed down to Mexico. Pedro must die."
The game hadn't even started and the players wanted to make Pedro pay for what he did to them. Promises of Pedro's demise flooded the thread. They couldn't wait. They were already motivated.
Let's pick another one. Envy. So you're running a Supers game. The Super Heroes are part of a team but there's this other team in town and they're stealing the show. Old ladies are baking cookies for them, the news want to interview them, children are asking their parents to go see them and get their autograph. I don't know about you but I hate their guts already. Imagine how your players will feel about them. Suddenly, while these jerks are enjoying the fame, the Super Heroes become aware of a menace in the city. It's their chance to get the spotlight back.

In the next blog I'll talk about the set-up and starting in media res without losing the introduction.