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.

34 thoughts on “I ran Mutant: Genlab Alpha at Chicago Gameday this weekend

  1. Aside: when we played the strategic turn, we resolved the habitats with cells first, and then kind of ignored the rest. Honestly, we’d spent long enough on making PCs that resolving Watcher operations for habitats we knew the players wouldn’t see seemed like a waste of time.

    Plus, I am still shaky on how the rules for this work. E.g., the Watcher sheet has entries for “Checkpoint”, but I don’t know if that means I need to allot squads for each one every turn, or if that’s just space to indicate whether a checkpoint has been abandoned. As it is, I found that even at the start, there are not enough squads to operate in every single habitat — unless I was just choosing operations poorly.

  2. < ![CDATA[Aside: when we played the strategic turn, we resolved the habitats with cells first, and then kind of ignored the rest. Honestly, we'd spent long enough on making PCs that resolving Watcher operations for habitats we knew the players wouldn't see seemed like a waste of time. Plus, I am still shaky on how the rules for this work. E.g., the Watcher sheet has entries for "Checkpoint", but I don't know if that means I need to allot squads for each one every turn, or if that's just space to indicate whether a checkpoint has been abandoned. As it is, I found that even at the start, there are not enough squads to operate in every single habitat — unless I was just choosing operations poorly.]]>

  3. I do think the “megacampaign game as a con game” factor had the greatest impact, of the downsides you mentioned. It ends up feeling more like a demo or promo game than a self-contained experience. This event was successful in that way, given I’ve wishlisted it! But since that wasn’t what you were going for overall, I can understand your disappointment.

  4. < ![CDATA[I do think the "megacampaign game as a con game" factor had the greatest impact, of the downsides you mentioned. It ends up feeling more like a demo or promo game than a self-contained experience. This event was successful in that way, given I've wishlisted it! But since that wasn't what you were going for overall, I can understand your disappointment.]]>

  5. All the feels, Mark!

    And yeah, you can deliver a technically perfect execution of a game that still isn’t fun/rewarding (which is, I think, the core of the whole RAW-skeptic camp).

    I definitely know I’m straddling the demo/self-contained line whenever I run a Mutant game. Some of the procedures don’t really make sense without a campaign context. I ran into that when I ran Genlab Alpha at a con earlier this month. I stuck it out, because I have a good idea of how Mutant ultimately delivers its payload, but then we’re into the realm of subtle nudges and emphases. Like, look at your r-map and have an NPC deliver the news about that Watcher raid that happened in some habitat they’re not planning on going to, and have the NPC ask for their help so now they’re thinking about maybe going to help as part of their cell operation.

    I totally get that that’s kind of advanced play that might not be obvious w/o prior Mutant-style campaign experience. Shit, it wasn’t obvious to me until I started getting discouraged at how little the r-map seemed to matter (I wrote a post about that a week or two ago I think).

    Dunno that I’d want to try and learn a whole new game before throwing down at a con table tho. Sounds like you had friends at the table, though? That might be okay. I swear, adding a “learning” tag to game listings is the way to go (kind of like how BBC will call out “playtest” if it’s an unpublished dealie).

  6. < ![CDATA[All the feels, Mark! And yeah, you can deliver a technically perfect execution of a game that still isn't fun/rewarding (which is, I think, the core of the whole RAW-skeptic camp). I definitely know I'm straddling the demo/self-contained line whenever I run a Mutant game. Some of the procedures don't really make sense without a campaign context. I ran into that when I ran Genlab Alpha at a con earlier this month. I stuck it out, because I have a good idea of how Mutant ultimately delivers its payload, but then we're into the realm of subtle nudges and emphases. Like, look at your r-map and have an NPC deliver the news about that Watcher raid that happened in some habitat they're not planning on going to, and have the NPC ask for their help so now they're thinking about maybe going to help as part of their cell operation. I totally get that that's kind of advanced play that might not be obvious w/o prior Mutant-style campaign experience. Shit, it wasn't obvious to me until I started getting discouraged at how little the r-map seemed to matter (I wrote a post about that a week or two ago I think).
    Dunno that I’d want to try and learn a whole new game before throwing down at a con table tho. Sounds like you had friends at the table, though? That might be okay. I swear, adding a “learning” tag to game listings is the way to go (kind of like how BBC will call out “playtest” if it’s an unpublished dealie).]]>

  7. That’s a big game to try and run a oneshot for. If you feel you need to get back your GM mojo and you only have a the ability to run oneshots for folks, then I’d suggest truly low prep games that are easy to teach, like Lady Blackbird or Dread.

  8. < ![CDATA[That's a big game to try and run a oneshot for. If you feel you need to get back your GM mojo and you only have a the ability to run oneshots for folks, then I'd suggest truly low prep games that are easy to teach, like Lady Blackbird or Dread.]]>

  9. You’re a great GM, and while life may have dulled your skills (I believe it, post kid myself) I don’t think it’s as bad as you think. Think of it this way: Michael Jordan could still beat almost anyone in a game of basketball even though he couldn’t compete in the NBA.

    This sounds like a super tough game to pull off in a one shot, so don’t be so hard on yourself. You made a game of Hero a blast for me, and afterwards when I looked at the rules, I about went cross eyed.

  10. < ![CDATA[You're a great GM, and while life may have dulled your skills (I believe it, post kid myself) I don't think it's as bad as you think. Think of it this way: Michael Jordan could still beat almost anyone in a game of basketball even though he couldn't compete in the NBA. This sounds like a super tough game to pull off in a one shot, so don't be so hard on yourself. You made a game of Hero a blast for me, and afterwards when I looked at the rules, I about went cross eyed.]]>

  11. Paul Beakley Three of the four players were Gameday regulars, and I’ve known Sabe for years via Forge Midwest. Definitely helpful, but I’m also used to running Gameyda events for new folks, so if it’d been all unfamiliar people it would not have phased me.

    So, the “Learning” tag would let people know that I was new to the game? Interesting. Given my usual Gameday M.O., every game I run would have that tag. 🙂

    It’s hard not to run something new each Gameday, as I probably game less than ten times a year these days, so running a game I’ve already played seems like a wasted opportunity.

  12. < ![CDATA[Paul Beakley Three of the four players were Gameday regulars, and I've known Sabe for years via Forge Midwest. Definitely helpful, but I'm also used to running Gameyda events for new folks, so if it'd been all unfamiliar people it would not have phased me. So, the "Learning" tag would let people know that I was new to the game? Interesting. Given my usual Gameday M.O., every game I run would have that tag. 🙂 It's hard not to run something new each Gameday, as I probably game less than ten times a year these days, so running a game I've already played seems like a wasted opportunity.]]>

  13. Mark Delsing “learning” would mean exactly that, yeah. I had to explain up front that I had literally just pulled the shrink wrap off my Meridian box the day before when I presented it at my BBC table a couple weeks ago. I think everyone would have still been in for it, but still, I think it’s good to know.

    10/year and fuzzy parent-brain. It gets better, I promise!

  14. < ![CDATA[Mark Delsing "learning" would mean exactly that, yeah. I had to explain up front that I had literally just pulled the shrink wrap off my Meridian box the day before when I presented it at my BBC table a couple weeks ago. I think everyone would have still been in for it, but still, I think it’s good to know.
    10/year and fuzzy parent-brain. It gets better, I promise!]]>

  15. As for #1: I recall you work downtown, so we should totally setup an after-work downtown gaming club. Child-duties keep me away from game stores on the reg (this weekend was prime Trick-or-treating and party time).

  16. < ![CDATA[As for #1: I recall you work downtown, so we should totally setup an after-work downtown gaming club. Child-duties keep me away from game stores on the reg (this weekend was prime Trick-or-treating and party time).]]>

  17. < ![CDATA[Aaron Griffin That would rock, but would also be sort of hard for me, as I live out int he 'burbs, so I rely on Metra, i.e., staying downtown after rush hour means a 1.5 hour train ride home.]]>

  18. Jason Ambrose: Aw, ha! There are plenty of fans who have good fun with it, though; it’s survived as long as it has for good reason. But I do feel it’s more optimized for “lonely fun” of building characters and tinkering with rules than for a memorable play experience.

  19. < ![CDATA[Jason Ambrose: Aw, ha! There are plenty of fans who have good fun with it, though; it's survived as long as it has for good reason. But I do feel it's more optimized for "lonely fun" of building characters and tinkering with rules than for a memorable play experience.]]>