A Gameday full of the Apocalypse
At Chicago Gameday 42 this past weekend, I ran Monster of the Week and played Worlds in Peril, both PbtA games.
MotW saw me facing one of my most common problems, namely that I am great at coming up with catchy concepts, but I suck at implementing them. This time around my idea was to have the players be a group of fiction’s greatest monster-hunters, namely Buffy Summers, Hellboy, Velma from Scooby-Doo, and Abraham Lincoln, vampire hunter. (Harry Dresden was on offer as well, but no one chose him.) The problem is that, beyond that elevator pitch, I had no idea what they would actually do.
I eventually hit upon the idea of a SF/gaming convention (ValorCon, because I was pissed at them) being hit by a curse that turned everyone into their costumes. Ergo, the players are also enchanted cosplayers. Beyond that, I had a weak premise of a con organizer who summoned a demon who granted her the wish to make the con “incredible”, which transformed any cosplaying attendees and turned the organizer into The Dungeon Master. (Various folks here on G+ made cameo appearances as con-goers. Paul Beakley and his daughter Iris were the first congoers to get help from the players; Nathan Paoletta was beset by a table of pro wrestlers, and Megan Pedersen had transformed into a giant Galactus preparing the eat the planet.)
Ergo, the players have to fight off monsters without killing them, as well as figure out how to defeat the DM and break the curse. It took me hours and hours to put this together, but even then my detail were sketchy and I felt the whole deal was half-baked.
The actual session seemed to go pretty well, and I have to say that the PbtA approach to GM’ing is very helpful; agendas, principles, moves are all great tools.
However, after the game I bumped into one of my players Shari Corey as well as friends Willow Palecek and Tim Jensen, who sat with me at lunch and gave me a de-brief. Turns out I fucked up a LOT of the rules, and I was not adhering to the aforementioned GM tools all that well. Shari felt that I was blocking her quite a bit, and I was not doing a good job identifying moves that suited the players’ narration — there was a lot of Kicks Some Ass and Act Under Pressure, and much less of anything else. I’m not sure Read A Bad Situation came up at all.
In my defense, all I could say was that my lack of surety about my scenario idea was the source of a lot of the problems. Where Shari felt railroaded, I was simply balking about what was possible and scrambling to figure out needed details. That said, my lack of experience running PbtA games was definitely on display; I’ve played various games as one-shots, but this was my first real GM’ing experience outside of a horrendously failed ApWo game from years ago.
Regardless, Shari, Willow, and Tim’s input was incredibly useful. I’d love to get that kind of brutally honest feedback more often.
So, that was my morning game. In the afternoon I played Worlds in Peril, run by Dain Lybarger. There was just on other player, so it was our little Dynamic Duo taking on a crazed industrialist looking to take over Chicago.
I really enjoyed the wholly abstract nature of superpowers in WiP; it’s exactly the sort of approach that attracted me to Marvel Heroic. Just some plain language describing what your character’s schtick is and some guidelines as to what effects are in- and out-of-bounds. This worked flawlessly in play, as far as I could tell.
Damage was a little weirder. Rather than points, damage is handled as conditions of differing severity; gain too many Critical conditions and you’re taken out. Sort of Fate- and MHR-like, which is cool, but I wasn’t clear on the full implementation. It seems like Mild and Moderate conditions are easy to shake off or render irrelevant, and landing Critical conditions required some serious effort. One foe we faced needed so many Crits to take down that I think we ended up doing kind of end run around by simply tricking him into surrender. I dunno. it was weird, but I have yet to read the book, so I could simply not be undestanding the full procedure.
Regardless, it was a lot of fun, especially playing in such a small group; lots of face-time for each of us, which is nice, especially in a con environment.
At this point, I’m assuming that I simply need to get more PbtA experience under my belt, as well as do a better job internalizing a given game’s GM/MC content. That, and worry a little less about ideas and more about their implementation. (I think maybe I’m going to do a separate post about that.)