Aaaaa! I’ve finally cracked this difficult game. Yesterday I ran the most successful Chuubo’s session I’ve ever had, as a convention one-shot, no less!
This Chicago Gameday landed on the weekend before Halloween, so I got the idea to run the Chuubo’s Halloween Special at the event. For the unfamiliar, the Halloween Special is a short Chuubo’s campaign with pregenerated characters. (Jenna calls it a “one-shot,” but in her sense of the term it means a campaign lasting upwards of 30 hours of play. More on that later.) It’s set in an alternate-universe version of the core setting’s Soma Village, in which Headmaster Entropy II is actually the Halloween King, ruler of a mirror world where everything is creepy and scary. Jasmine Apocynum, Soun Shounen, and Edony Marguerite all get involved in the story of how an amnesiac Entropy comes to realize who he really is and return to the Halloween World to reclaim his rightful throne.
One of the players signed up for the game couldn’t make it, so we ended up without a Shounen, but the group we had knocked it out of the park. We covered a lot of narrative ground in the five-hour time slot we had, and the fictional recap is not the most important part of this post, so I’ll just note a few highlights:
* The Headmaster started off playing the stern authority figure, cracking down on Jasmine’s and Edony’s antics, but then Jasmine’s preaching broke through. Something seemed right about the idea that this world was false, a prison, needing to be destroyed…
* Sneaking a read through some of Jasmine’s books, Edony learned of the six-armed Child of the Sun who might be capable of replacing the sun that went out. So she tried using her Inhuman and Changeling powers to manifest extra arms herself. She ended up growing creepy clawed arms that appeared whenever someone said the word “hand.”
* Jasmine reveled in using her Heart Magic to seize control of various Halloween monsters. This was often coupled with use of her Starry Eyes to not die when suffering horrible injury, because said Halloween monsters didn’t typically consent to having their hearts pulled out.
* Speaking of monsters, Entropy at one point used his Fallen King power to craft a giant were-squirrel thing out of a pumpkin-headed monster and various Halloween World detritus. Stopping its rampage ended up being Edony’s quest goal to “defeat an impossible monster”.
* The story ended in an enormous battle featuring the PCs, the usurper Jarls of the Halloween World and their minions, the Child of the Sun, and a collection of Halloween World residents loyal to their old king. Afterward, Entropy took his old throne; Jasmine became the Queen of the prison-world, which she renewed and made real by installing the Child of the Sun as its new sun; and Edony became the ambassador from the Halloween World to Soma.
To streamline the game for convention play, both accelerating the pace of progression and cutting down on mechanics teaching time, I made the following rules adjustments:
* Drastically reduced the needed XP to complete Quests. Basic Quests dinged every 5 points. Storyline Quests wrapped up at 10 points. This meant that if three major goals (4 XP/apiece per the Special) were fulfilled, or two plus a couple of Emotion or flavor points, the quest would finish.
* Ignored the 1, 2, 4, 8 restriction on Will expenditure.
* Didn’t use Wounds, Health Levels, or Issues.
* Didn’t use Technique lists for Magical Skills, but established a basic sort of thing they could do with the skill at no penalty, then assessed Obstacles using the normal rubric for stretching skill use.
* Reduced the importance of genre actions. Chapters concluded at natural breakpoints or cliffhangers in the story, not when a certain number of XP Actions had been performed. XP Actions then became a set of Quest flavor options available to everyone.
* No XP tokens. If you earned a bonus XP, including for a genre action, you immediately checked off a bubble on an active Quest of your choice.
Some of the above I might consider using as house rules in a campaign game as well, but they weren’t my main takeaway for how to run Chuubo’s in the general sense. My eureka moment, my new ironclad rule for doing Chuubo’s successfully, the secret key:
Focus as much of your attention as HG on fulfilling major Quest goals as possible.
I’d always known on a sort of intellectual level that Quests were the killer app in Chuubo’s. Not the diceless Intention ladder, not the miraculous powers, but the Quests—they’re the bit that made me go “ooh,” the idea I itched to port to other games, etc. But as a practical matter, I never really succeeded in making them hum until now. With the characters pregenerated and their entire first Arcs laid out in Quests 1, 2, 3, I did the one bit of prep that made everything work: I made a major Quest goal cheat sheet! I put all twelve Quests in a LibreOffice document, with one line reminding me of the overall thrust of the Quest, followed by each of its major Goals with checkboxes.
Then at the table, I chased those events relentlessly. Every time I framed a scene, I made sure I had at least one Quest goal primed to go. (Example: the Ideologue’s final quest involves “something important to you catches on fire,” so a monster she faced in the Labyrinth was a fire-breathing critter. I didn’t preplan what the something important was, but whatever it turned out to be, the fire was ready for it!) Where possible, I even aimed to hit a major goal per character in a scene. Where the core rules suggest moving spotlight time around from one XP Action to the next, I instead encouraged PCs to fade into the background for a bit once a major Quest goal tripped, until the others got their chance.
It didn’t take long for the players to catch on to the process and help me out with it! Their suggestions for things to happen next often helped clue me in to Quest goal opportunities I’d overlooked. (Example: we met up with a magus, one of the King’s advisors from times of old. I’d introduced him as a chance to invite the Ideologue to sit by a fire for one of her goals, but Edony’s player soon asked, “hey, might this guy know something terrible about my heritage?” Of course he did!) That dialogue facilitated by the Quest cards and my cheat sheet became the backbone of the session.
Hopefully that insight helps somebody else out there! I’d almost written off Chuubo’s as one of my heartbreaker games, titles that show tons of promise on paper but only manage to deliver so-so experiences in play. But now I’m excited to try a campaign again some time, parlaying what I’ve learned here into something closer to the mode the game was originally designed for. Props to Chicago Gameday for giving me the chance!