Tag Archives: players

States of Play, 2013

And 2013 is over. It’s been a good while since I’ve written an article into the blog. And while this is sad, I have been busy with the game and things related to it instead of public writing, so I can’t really say I’m feeling sorry about the lack of updates. But here’s where we are now:

States of Play, 2013 in review

And back to the basics

I have to say I’m ashamed that when I started the run of New Horizons, I had forgotten how to run a normal role-playing game campaign. My previous long campaign was a set of procedural related one-shots for three years, and then a few random mini-campaigns. They all were based on the idea that I had to be able to respond to the wacky ideas the players came up with on the fly, so there couldn’t be that many pre-planned things.

I tried starting a campaign a few months before New Horizons and failed for the same reason New Horizons has been hard. I didn’t do the long road of planning about everything that normally goes into scenario design. Building a longer, more stable campaign means that I need to focus. Prepare. Think. Ponder. Write characters with short term motivations and goals as well as the long term. Print out maps, think of encounters, make challenges.

The system I use in New Horizons has a lot of pressure on the GM to be able to tell not only what, but why the non-player characters are doing the things they are doing. The investigation rules revolve around me to be able to provide the player characters with meaningful information when they ask for it instead of random clues.

In many ways, +H is more simulationistic system than anything I’ve used in a very long time. And now that I’m finally getting that, I have started to put the effort into the “right spots”. The game I ran the other day to Bravo Team was the first one where I felt fully comfortable with the rules, so at least something was accomplished by the end of 2013.

And speaking of rules…

Now that I’ve run about a dozen sessions of the campaign, I have had an epiphany about how the system is built. The huge emphasis on Role Moves over Basic Moves has a profound effect on not only what rules get used in the campaign, but where are the points of interest in the fiction.

The only two times where the GM makes their Move are when things aren’t progressing, or when a character fails their Move. That means that the trigger points of the Moves become the possible turning points for the fiction. Take the Move that triggers when you are in an intimate situation with someone, and every intimate situation you end up will become a possible point of something dramatic. The ebb and flow of the game ends up being determined by which Moves the players choose for their characters, putting a lot of responsibility for the story in their hands.

Also, a counter-intuitive thing with the system is that having a Role Move doesn’t necessarily make your character more powerful or capable. Someone who doesn’t have the Move “Get the Hell out of Dodge”, can still make a daring escape through the window, probably just as well as someone with it. Just that the rules for handling that situation are different from someone who has that Move and the effects of success and partial success are very different. The drama is forced to bend to a different direction.

There is a lesson or a thought in there about characters in the team taking identical or different Moves, but I’ll leave you ponder on that or maybe return to it in some other post.

Design like it’s 1999

The Moves cards (not an actual photo, just a mock-up)

Being a freelancer and having way too much spare time, I’ve been doing the visual things for New Horizons with the “this will look nice on my portfolio” level of attention and love. Much to the annoyance of my players, this means a lot of graphic design everywhere, even in the situations where they would be happy with just a scrap paper with some letters on it. As well as an endless stream of revision on things that “Already look quite fine just the way they are!”

But for me it’s been great. I’m already looking at the earlier documents I did for the first game sessions and redoing them in a way that fits the “new and improved” line of design. And I’ve done tons. Character sheets, web pages, documents, even a few mock up trailer videos for the game. And for my Christmas present, I put some money in to getting the Moves Cards printed in color and proper cardstock via TGC. Will see how they turn out somewhere mid-January.

Where we are now, at end of 2013

Few words about the actual campaigns. Both teams have now completed their Tutorial missions and their first actual missions and are somewhere in the November-December area of 2013.

Without going into specifics, I have reached the point in the campaign where the words “Shadow Biosphere” have been said to both teams and they have had the opportunity to speak with the scientists of New Horizons who actually study these things. Both groups have ran into people who have opposing goals to the company’s. And both teams have had an opportunity to travel the world. So all of the basic things about the game have been covered.

Alpha Team is currently heading to R/V Polstjärnan that has been lost for half a year, and Bravo Team is yet to make a choice about where they’re going to head to next. Possibly Heartland, Maine. Possibly Oslo. Maybe Geneva or southern France. I’ll see once they reply to my love letters.

Resolutions for a new year

And looking forward.

I promise to continue with the blog come 2014. It’s been on hiatus, but I’ve had the opportunity to recharge my batteries and get things rolling again, so there is no reason to keep this place silent.

I will continue to tinker with the system and release some form of a playable draft to the internet (in Finnish) during 2014.

I will put effort to preparing the game sessions. I am seeing how much preparation I need to put to get the ball rolling right, and I will do my best to get at least that much work done.

And I’d like to make a challenge to my +H players, and pretty much all the players in all the games out there. I challenge you to be even better wingmen in 2014. Making other players (not just their characters) look awesome is a skill that will keep on rewarding you for the rest of your gaming career. Elevate them and they’ll repay you in kind.

And remember that it’s only a game, the main point of all of this is just to have fun!

Happy 2014!

Here, as a treat, one of those trailers I’ve made for our games. It’s spliced together from movies, games and tv-shows.

The Game Master as Teacher

The masks a Game Master wears in a tabletop RPG are many. They are an authority figure standing over everything, judging the world from their ebony throne. They are one of they players, there to enjoy the action with their friends. But the role that rarely gets brought up in conversation is the one of the Game Master as teacher.

A game is a love triangle between the players, the GM and the rules. In some groups everyone owns the rule books and memorize the rules. More often I see situations where the GM is the only person who has the books and full knowledge of how the game works. So while herding the cats known as players, and trying to get the adventure across, the GM also has to explain how things work and what dice to roll and where.

I know players who keep asking “which dice do I roll?” session after session in games that use only a pair of d6s. And others playing in the same game who have started optimizing their characters’ numbers from the get-go. People learn games differently and at different speeds. And usually you end up in a situation where the “system mastery” willingness of players varies from one to the other.

While it would seem optimal to let the more experienced players be the rules experts and guide the least experienced ones, there is a huge danger of it turning into a game of “you should do this” that quickly draws the fun out of playing. One big fun thing about RPGs is that they’re a safe environment to make mistakes.

In my games, if the game has rule books, I try to give them to the people who are least comfortable with them. They can then read them while other people are doing stuff and learn. This is much better than them toying with their smartphones or reading comics. And when some rule question comes up from any of the players, I point the newbie to where they can find the rule in the book and have them read it to the group.

While this does bring the game to a complete halt, it is a good part of the active learning process. The least-experienced person gets the time they need to get the rule and everyone else can chip in by explaining what it actually means, thus getting a more firm grasp of the whole. Everyone slowly learns what’s happening.

Now, with games like New Horizons, where there is no core book to share, the responsibility for teaching the rules is really all on me the GM. This means that I both can and have to pace the way I let the players in on how things work. I start with the very basics, get them tuned in on those, and then slowly expand the rules as we go along.

My plan was to craft a few tutorial sessions in the start of the campaign. The first games were played with a lighter version of the system. Basic rules like the Moves were used properly, while others, like Critical Damage weren’t touched at all. And some, like Trust and Confidence were made to be easier and more carefree to use so that the players get the hang of them before they had to think about conserving their strengths. I explained the rules as we played through a sample mission.

Looking back, I would probably construct the tutorial sessions differently than what I did now – taking the structure from the Recruitment Job presented in the Leverage RPG core book that is designed to do nothing else than showcase the characters’ abilities. Will remember this in my next campaign.

Also, while +H has no book to consult, the rules are still there to be read. Every Move is written on cards that are in front of the players. While watching others play, you can look at the cards and ponder how to use them later to the best effect. Effectively placing the rule book in all the players’ hands. The writing out of the mechanical rules is another aspect of Apocalypse World playbooks I really like.

And the last but not least teaching aid I have at my disposal is this blog. I try my best to use this as a backdoor channel in explaining the players not only the “what” but the “why” to my players. I’m trying my best to be open about the design decisions, which hopefully allows the players to understand them, and thus get to the core of the game.