I ran Mutant: Genlab Alpha at Chicago Gameday this weekend
And it went okay.
I followed the advice of Paul Beakley and set up some pregens that were mostly done, but left room for animal choice, power choice, PC relationships, and their Big Dream. We played a strategic turn first and then zoomed in on the PC cell carrying out some recon on the dog habitat. By about three hours in, three of the four PCs had been carried off, unconscious, by sentinels. After a break and be-brief, we called it quits.
So, yeah, none of the NPC and PC relationships we established during pregen-tweaking came into play at all, and really we had maybe an hour or more of PC-level play before the Near-Party Kill™.
I think the game went well overall, and while not blown away, the players seemed fairly intrigued by the game. Just not enough to figure a way to keep playing longer than we did (granted, one player — Sabe Jones — needed to hit the road just about when we were ending).
I will say that I was a little disheartened by the session, if only because of the staggering amount of time I invested in prep — reading the rules, re-reading, taking notes, making procedure/note sheets, designing character sheets and handouts — resulted in little actual play-time. A huge portion of the session as-was involved me teaching the game and us establishing the PCs.
I also don’t feel like I really managed to bring any of the NPCs we established into the session at all, and I don’t know how well I was following the principles defined in the GM chapter. Granted, I stuck to Paul’s advice and used only the random encounter table and PC Operations for the session, so everything was happening on-the-fly. But I have to wonder if maybe using one of the Key Events — say, the fetch-quest in event two — as the session would have been more rewarding as a one-shot.
Let me be clear, though, that this is not souring me on Genlab Alpha. I think it’s more that:
1) I have really lost a lot of my GM-fu of late. I don’t get to play nearly as much any more, so I think all of my skills are getting pretty rusty.
2) Likewise, I don’t think my prep process is effective or efficient. I really need to work on this.
3) I have become pretty fuzzy-minded since my heart attack and my son’s birth; this is maybe not a great combo with heavily improvised GM’ing.
That said, I feel like despite not really making good use of the NPCs, I played the game pretty straight. One of the principles is “Watchers are everywhere”, and there was a Checkpoint operation chosen for the dog habitat. The PCs biffed stealthily observing the Lodge, and so the dogs , being in with the Watchers, alerted the checkpoint and, well, sentinels are freaking tough.
I think another factor is something that I’ve posted about before, namely that I tend to choose complex, campaign-oriented RPGs for my Gameday one-shots. Were this an ongoing campaign, with players familiar with the game, I think it may have played out very differently. I’m staring to think that, as much as I want to use Gameday for experimentation with certain games I’m grooving on, I should maybe face the fact that one-shot events are better suited by RPGs designed for one-shots.
So, I’m glad I got this to the table, even as a one-shot, but I remain a bit let down.