Post session analysis

I stayed up way too late sending James pictures of birthday cakes thinking about the game and what’s working and what isn’t. Also wondering if I’d been tricking myself into thinking any of the games had really worked as well as I imagined (more on that later). It was one of those kind of nights.

Here are some of the thoughts in my head. No particular order.

I want to repeat my apology to Mike for stepping on what he was saying and not giving him enough time.

I want to apologize to Dave for knowing he had stuff he really wanted to do and making him wait until literally everyone else had, at the least, right of first refusal.

I want to apologize to James for not really understanding his new move - I missed most of the conversation you guys had about what the two moves did together because I was still trying to get family stuff sorted and help Kaylee organize her thoughts around her due-2nd-day-of-school essay, and it led to some wrongness later, and that’s on me. Maybe I shouldn’t have done the game last night? Maybe. Hardly matters except as a data point now.


Chain-lightning round.

I like this game. I’d like to keep playing it, though I’m not going to do that as a solo exercise, so it might be out of my hands.

I’m still figuring out where its strengths and weaknesses are.

I’ve talked at length about weaknesses in the design. I haven’t said much about the strengths, but they’re there.

It’s a weird hybrid of indie story-games(1), pbta, fate, and trad RPGs. I still like it.

(1: I’m defining story-games, here, as ‘games where the main point is tell a story, irrespective of ttrpg expectations’ - see For the Queen, Fiasco, Bluebeard’s Bride, et cetera)

I need to remember and/or recognize where the game is pbta, where it’s trad, where it’s story-game, and where it’s fate. Mostly recognize, because I haven’t recognized that previously.

If the game’s going to work, especially in a game that’s so close to GM-less or GM-ful or whatever this is, everyone needs to recognize those things. It’s fine to say “follow the fiction”, but that’s not the only expectation in this game, because it’s not just that kind of game, right? It’s inaccurate (I think) to say it’s the thing you can do and everything else will work - in fact I think there’s times when the game momentum breaks down when it’s all that’s considered.

(It is accurate to say player-buy-in will help paper over or ignore a number of faults, but that’s not the same thing as ‘follow the fiction’. Sometimes player buy in, in FELLOWSHIP specifically, is “I’m not going to think too hard about this and just play to the tropes, even if I’m not personally fictionally tied in very hard right now.” I think. IMO. IMHO. YMMV. OVIM.)

I mean. Yeah. It’s good to have personal ties to a scene, if they’re there. That’s best. But sometimes the point of the game is just to be a TTRPG and hit the bad guy, y’know? There’s a cave troll, it wants to kill you. Kill it back. The end.


Slowing down now.

I’m thinking about this because of the scene last night. Wynn was socketed into the scene… great. Ann was socketed into Wynn and Rowan’s well-being.

Rowan and Virens weren’t, for different reasons? I mean, I tried to say “Dude these are two members of the group that dropped an island on your friends. Express your displeasure.” I guess I thought it was sufficient. I made an assumptions there? Or I just wasn’t direct enough.

Side note: I really really thought I’d picked out NPCs that would give everyone someone to care about. Leaders of the group that killed Virens’s friend. A harbinger for Rowan. The last of Wynn’s people. Looters preying on the good people (both groups being mostly human) for Ann. A fast talker, dumb mooks, and an arrogant prick for Carabas to tweak.

And yeah, they’ve got these abilities that make it hard to one-shot them. Maybe you’re not sure what options you have that’ll work. Okay. Ask? I mean, just ask? Or use a bunch of asking-the-GM moves? Or create lore so you can do stuff? Or, again, just ask? I’m not sure why we didn’t just ask.

I mean, I can read back through threads and NOW I can see (or imagine I see) a subtle ask in “well knowing this guys stats, I can’t do anything to him” but… I mean, IF that was asking, it was too subtle for me to catch it, by at least half.

That the setup fell dead with ~40% of the group still has me scratching my head a little. I was not prepared for “what’s my motivation in this scene”, I guess because (a) I thought it was obvious and (b) barring that, it’s 2 sessions into the game and maybe just hit the fucking cave troll and kick the tires on your guy? (See also: Masks sessions 1-3.)

Meanwhile, Carabas, who’s personal motivation was “I want to tweak this arrogant wizard,” and kind of ended there (AFAIK), and really that’s just an expression of Dave going “I just wanna play my dude.” That’s a straightforward kind of traditional TTRPG ‘motivation’, and it works because of the game’s soup kitchen dna has pieces that respond well to that.

“I’m going to wait and see what the people who this scene is actually about are going to do,” left me just working my mouth like a dying fish. I mean, the scene was meant to be about everyone. You guys are the fellowship - those are the bad guys. Hit the cave troll?

Talk to the cave troll? Taunt the cave troll? Recruit the cave troll? Something.

Yes, follow the fiction. Sometimes.

60% of the time?

Maybe 80% of the time later into the game? Point is, there are big pieces of the game - THIS game, in particular - where the game sort of assumes ‘there are zombies. the players will fight them, because they’re zombies. the end.’

As an example of my own flummoxed-ness. I really, really wasn’t expecting Bill to have nothing he wanted to try when a previous post of his was like a YouTube on “Sixteen Ways to Gut a General.”

I was tired at the end, but before the break-down I thought the game had 80% worked, just been too goddamn slow. Adjust that to 60% in hindsight I guess. I dunno.


Comparisons

I don’t buy “we’ve got no inherent reasons to fight these guys” as a strictly pbta problem or limitation or requirement or whatever. I don’t even…

I mean, I dropped a complete stranger into your news interview in session 1 of Masks and we spent the next three weeks beating four colors of hell into her and Troll. There’s no background there. It’s a supers fight - your motivation and connection is “imma punch the cave Troll.” It worked. It was PBTA.

But… didn’t work here. Didn’t feel like enough? Not sure why. Not sure what the difference is. Different genre expectations? I do not know.


Looping back to 'wondering if any of these games have actually worked’

I think I’m pretty good at doing games, I guess.

No, actually I definitely think that (whether or not it’s true), because late last night was a long dark stroll through “what if that’s complete horseshit?” and it sucked a bit. I definitely think that, because rattling that support beam in my psyche was pretty destabilizing. Ipso facto.

Being clear: I’m not looking for reassurance on this. I will recap supporting points for ‘maybe it is never working well.’

  • Star Wars bounced through three different game systems and constant system hacks even on the one that ‘worked’ to keep it running, and even then had me fielding disgruntled PMs throughout.
  • Masks was great, except it was also low-grade unhappy PMs throughout, so.
  • S&V didn’t work at all.
  • Yesterday.

So I dunno. Maybe it’s never worked as well as I thought.

Or, in the case of Masks, success is largely laid at the feet of the character buy in and investment, which has carried the game’s onward for a least six months past its technical end, last time I checked, without my input, and possibly for the better. Who can say.


If any of this seems like shoutyness, please imagine me shouting at the heavens, not people.

I dunno. Maybe Monday nights are bad? The energy level is bad? It doesn’t feel like we’re half so engaged then as the middle of the week, on the forum.

I dunno.

That’s the eighth time I’ve written that, so I think it’s time to stop.

I think this situation is better than you think, but I think it’s also because my intent wasn’t properly conveyed.

“An event happens that threatens you. What do you do?” This is a fundamental PBTA posture for the GM to adopt.

In the moment, the spotlight was on Wynn, who had just charged Siflae and was going to bounce off in some fashion. That bounce took Wynn on a direct path toward Rowan. In that moment, I felt that Rowan ought to respond to this sudden event.

So I was very confused why you were suddenly swinging over to Virens for a response, and then to Ann, to somehow deal with a situation that our wizard was actually facing. This goes back to what Mike was saying, which was “please don’t walk over my lines or steal spotlight early”.

If you’d just kept the spotlight on the affected players, let them resolve that situation, Virens would happily have stepped into any gap left behind, and as I mentioned in Discord, there’s even something for him to say. If it naturally fell to Virens to talk, I was ready. But it felt like I was being asked to save someone who probably could save himself, and that was what I was responding to.

I think my point about the Honor-Bound was not this. It was close to this. We have reasons to fight them. What I don’t think that we have with Siflae is enough fiction to carry the weight of her honor-driven defenses.

So basically our motive to fight (“they dropped a mountain on my friend for the evulz”) feels like it’s in contradiction to her source of power (“I live life by a code of honor”). People with codes of honor do not typically drop mountains on people for the evulz, and to believe that she would, I’d need to learn more about her.

Does that make sense?

Ooh. I can actually explain that. You hadn’t said a single word all night and I wanted to get you involved.

(And I thought giving Virens a chance to showcase his much-better-tuned-for-battle reactions would be cool.)

Well, no: first, Rowan wasn’t facing the right way, and THEN that? Somewhere in there Rowan wasn’t facing the right way or something, so it went to Ann.

Then Ann because, again, Rowan wasn’t facing the right way. I guess.

That’s fair.

Side note: Sif didn’t do the island dropping personally, and is in fact kind of the reason it happened where it wouldn’t hurt anyone (stupid orc patrols getting splatted). Probably they don’t even know about that, though most wouldn’t much care.

Sif’s honor code always tends to boil down to “who is owed payment-in-kind most? Who is owed biggest.” That answer has been the Overlord for a really long time, if it becomes necessary to figure out which obligation trumps which.

So, on balance, if a decision is forced, she chooses the overlord, but prefers to avoid “lesser” debts (good or bad) at all[^1], which means your ‘force them off the field while they think about what they’ve done’ still works.

[^1]: She also prefers to balance debts whenever she can, if it doesn’t mess with a higher priority. She likes her ledger clean, is what I’m saying.[^2]

[^2]: I need to read James’s write-up on his people and flesh this out or tweak it.[^3]

[^3]: I also owe him a bond with Sif.

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I’d had a good scene where I intimidated some bandits into joining the group and was looking forward to Wynn, Ann, and others getting their similar moments. :slight_smile:

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Maybe there’s a useful thing to start doing: sort of a ‘in broad terms, whatcha looking for out of tonight?’ check in. Then I know “by doing these other guys, I’m actually giving Bill what he’s looking for, so we’re good.”

But yeah: it was a error in good faith?

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To be fair, every parent of a school-age child I know looks like a frantic mess right now so the fact you still put any effort towards gaming is commendable.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but the day of the game doesn’t affect me in the slightest (although I’m also probably the one with the fewest commitments). And I think we’re probably engaged on the forum in the middle of the week is because the game just occurred and so we’ve got new things to talk about and ponder. If the game happened on Friday, the weekends would probably be the time of most engagement on the forums.

I think there is a distinction here. In the case of the Masks game, Iconoclast was clearly the aggressor, bringing the fight to the Menagerie. They busted up Tasha Starr’s studio, and so we were defending ourselves and the surrounding bystanders.

Here, we ran into folks with 2/5 similar backgrounds to the Fellowship, seemingly holding back a band of bandits through their sheer badassness while they gassed up their magical doodads. Like we the players knew they were generals of the Overlord because you told us and our characters knew who they were personally, but did we have reason to start a fight? Did our characters know that they were part of the Overlord’s entourage. I wasn’t throwing the first punch there.

Going back to last week when the scene with Siflay and Ecki started, I kind of assumed that it was going to be something where we found out some details on the Overlord’s plans and then they would leave, didn’t think it was supposed to be a fight.

Not to be that guy, but this sounds like conflict with stakes (“There’s a cave troll, it wants to kill you.”) and a way to engage with that conflict (“Kill it back.”) clearly defined.

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That’s fair. I was envisioning a tense showdown and backdown as well, to be honest.

That said, when fists did start flying, I’m trying to figure out what I failed to inject in there to get everyone on board.

Note: that’t not precisely a question, but a statement - I’m trying to figure it out. I think I’m starting to see the shape of the thing.

While not the only answer, I could imagine something like the following crystallizing some stakes.

Carabas, having just stolen the teleporter thingy from Ecki, shows it off. Ecki, in a fit of rage shouts, “Give that back, you thieving halfling! I need that to report back to Mistress Tenebrios…” and then pauses realizing what he’s said.

Rowan, knowing the legend of High Magister Tenebrios and his idea that they are behind recent events, shouts an accusation, “You are working for Tenebrios? You’re behind the falling sky island?!”

And then all the Fellowships’ eyes lock on Ecki with various amounts of contempt…

We now know we can get answers from these two about the Overlord. Also, it adds the stakes “can we subdue them before they can escape with their teleporting thingies (not calling them anything else).” I can already imagine something like the last two Avenger movies where everyone is trying their damnedest not to let either of them grab the teleporting thingies and blip away.

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So, this hardly identifies all issues, but I will admit that my assumption going in was that you knew Ekki was working for the Overlord, in character. Like: you know the list of harbingers who sided with her, and Ekki is prominently on the list.

So… yeah. The scenes you’re describing would be where I thought we’d start, at least as far as that goes.

More calling for directed command lore or whatever. “Tell me about the conversation where you found out Ekki was aligned with the Overlord.” Useful. Ugh.

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Yeah, this might have been my biggest disconnect. I figured with the Overlord’s Mythical status, any idea of who their minions were would be guesswork on our part. If it’s more concrete than that, then I’ve been working under mistaken assumptions.

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I’m going to tackle the “Dave” bits first. I have more to say, but just to get them out of the way.

It’s happened a couple of times with Carabas, and I’m not sure if it’s I’m not being assertive enough as a player (a drawback to being distracted by taking notes, and sometimes other things) or if Carabas feels like less essential of a character (nobody feels compelled to hear what Merry and Pippin have to say when Aragorn, Gandalf, and Legolas are chatting), or what. I do agree that the spotlight shifts have been difficult so far.

That said, don’t take any of the above too seriously. I got my moment, and in a sense it made even more sense (if to less effect) by waiting for the Siflay/Wynn/Rowan/Ann drama to conclude.

Carabas had a number of motivations here. One was to tweak the arrogant bastard (knowing that he’s an arrogant bastard). One was outright terror of going up against Siflay, but needing to do something, and since everyone was focused on her (except Rowan, who clearly indicated be could handle the banditos), he’d focus on him. One was the possibility of getting some info out of Ecki that would help us learn more about Siflay (which turned out to be moot, but it still worked out reasonably).

(And now it occurs to me, assuming I don’t inadvertently teleport into the sun or something, that another successful Keep Busy / Sting Like A Bee might very well see me running around, with the gem, and dragging Ecki out of the scene. Which might simplify things for the team, be stunningly heroic, and etc. We will see.)

Any way, that’s the directly “Dave” bits. Let me read other replies, then opine further.

Y’know, that’s not a half-bad idea. Or even (and this reminds me out of other systems) "whatcha looking for out of this scene?"

“I want to show how spooky and tormented I am.”
“I want to prove my wit and pretence at courage.”
“I want to keep everyone safe.”
“I want to impress Wynn.”
“I want to wipe that smirk off of Ecki’s face.”
“I want to feel like I’m making progress in stopping this horrifying plot, whatever it is.”
“I want to get the folk doing something useful.”
“I want to slap down as many of the brigands as I can, because that sounds like fun tonight.”

Etc.

Not all of it may come to pass, and some things may be very character driven and others very “my energy level is high/low/fluctuating tonight,” but even if things don’t get directly addressed, they’ve been voiced and heard.

I dunno. Thoughts.

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Whereas I figured we knew at least the basics (thus knowing their moves/rules). Some of us might know more than others but … well, everyone knows a bit about Saruman, even if Gandalf (and maybe Aragorn) know more details (and possibly different ones) than, say, Gimli or Frodo.

Indeed, something to think about for future general encounters (er, encounters with generals) is that we might have met them before. Remember, we are mid-Fellowship, or at least long enough into it to have shared some adventures, some intel, had a few encounters, etc. We’re the LotR Fellowship coming up on Moria (everyone has been introduced to the Ringwraiths who didn’t know them, everyone’s heard of Saruman’s treachery, but different folk aren’t sure of what lurks in Khazad-dum or, for that matter, in Lorien).

When in doubt, Command Lore!

Okay, a few general thoughts, as much dialog has already gone over most of what I would say.

  1. I offer this as an observation, not a blaming, Doyce. I think you’ve been concerned about / trying to compensate for stuff (your problems with the system, your worries about whether people are having a good time and are engaged, whatever), that we’ve not only had spotlight problems, but you’ve been too eagerly pushing forward ideas / answers to what happens next beyond the scope of how the other players should be writing the world / scenario / characters. Mike touched on an aspect of this (his feeling like being talked over), but there have been more moments than that.

    I do firmly believe it’s not a matter of your disregard for what folk want, or disrespect, but creative enthusiasm and eagerness to help. I think this also ties into your worries about people not seeming engaged with the scene.

    I know the hardest thing for a creative person is to sit back and let other folk think of something, and suggestions can always be offered, but … something, maybe, to remember.

    (And, in turn, as the players and collaborators in the story, we need to also (a) be ready to pick up those creative reins when handed over, and (b) be responsible to say, “No, that doesn’t seem right to me, here’s what I think my character would do / what my people are like / what happened last time I at a poisoned fig.”)

  2. While you say you don’t want reassurance, I will say that I think the games described have had high points and low points but mostly the former and, hey, we’re all still here. I could offer critiques of each of those campaigns, but fingers would be pointing in all directions, including at myself. There’s no such thing as a complaint-free activity of this sort (and if there were no unhappy PMs of any sorts, that would be probably an even bigger sign of problems).

    I was happy with aspects of all those campaigns, too … some more than others, but that’s what makes a horse race. And the low point, S&V, largely came down to a system that wasn’t fun, not characters that weren’t (or, instead, a system that didn’t let us have as much fun with the characters as we felt we should be.) That we all stuck with it without voicing concerns we were feeling is a lesson learned.

    And, for that matter, without ignoring the rocky bits, don’t get too down on yesterday. Even if we got a bit too enmeshed in discussing the rules …

… there were a lot of good moments – I enjoyed my turn with Carabas, I loved the Wynn action, and Ann’s bond-based intervention (and our decision to “heal” Wynn). Various factors, in and out of control, constrained our time so we didn’t have opportunities for Rowan or Virens, but I have faith they are coming.

  1. I agree with Mike’s comment on Mondays vs any other day of the week.

My two cents (and a damp mouse toy).

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Wholeheartedly agreed with Dave’s points, especially this one. While I am busy to the point where an extra couple of hours a week sounds mighty tempting, I would not want them at the expense of getting to play with you guys every week.

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I don’t feel this way, and I hope nobody else does. I feel like Carabas drags his sub-genre or tone behind him, the way others do, and whether he has profoundly wise or arcane things to say, he can say things nobody else can as well.

I agree with this too.

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Okay. Sounds like we’re good to continue the game on Monday (presuming my voice holds out - it started going Monday night for no reason I can figure out).

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I also would like to say how I appreciate how when presented with a situation where things aren’t working we all talked reasonably and openly about the issue and looked for ways to change things that worked for everyone.

I don’t know about other folks, but I know I have stories about times where this same sort of situation would have led to no one talking until it all turned into resentment, bad feelings, and broken friendships among the group because talking about feelings and situations is hard to do. Thanks for being wonderful people.

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Me when working out group difficulties:

Me if you start dissing GURPS or something:

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