Tales from the Loop at Chicago Gameday 46

I ran Fria Ligan’s TftL yesterday as a one-shot for Tim Jensen, Todd Nicholas, Kelly Johnson (can’t tag you, dangit!), Dain Lybarger, and MadJay Brown.

In my opinion, the session was awful, and I’m the one to blame. About two-and-a-half hours in I came up with a great idea for how I should have run the event, and I wanted to punch myself in the face. While my core idea was good — better than anything in the book, IMO — I made my usual missteps. My prep kind of evaporated in my mind, I was too hesitant to get to the main situation, stringing the players along, and I just could not effectively process the r-map I sketched out at the start of the game. (I definitely need more practice with those; I totally fucked this one up and had to re-draw it.) I’m not sure why this happens to me, but it’s pretty consistent the last handful of events I’ve run. Game time comes, and I go blank.

The players told me they had fun, and maybe they did, but I could also see lots of blank faces staring off into the middle distance as focus moved around the table, which for me is always a sure sign of my not having the game well in hand.

Also, as I noticed with Genlab Alpha, all of the time we spent doing the r-map and adding finishing touches to the PCs seems largely wasted. I feel like this is a limitation of the one-shot, but I also wonder how well these elements are really integrated into the game itself. I could have sworn I learned this lesson with GA, but I feel like no way am I going to spend time on this stuff in future Gameday events. Too much of it goes totally unused. That, or I need more practice in how to use it.

As far as the product itself goes, it basically met my expectations. It’s a solid simplification of the ruleset we’ve seen in Mutant: Year Zero, and the core setting concept is good. I feel like there are aspects of the “playbooks” (i.e., the Kid types) that could stand a little more scrutiny, and some more concrete guidance for Mystery creation would have been helpful.

That said, I think the sample campaign presented in the book is kind of goofy. I don’t feel like it really connects to the setting as presented earlier in the text, nor does really explore the possibilities presented in the game. I was hoping for a meta-campaign setup — a la the Mutant games — where the Kids slowly get to the heart of the Loop’s mystery, and the scene depicted on the cover of the book is the big climax — Kids, armed as best they can, about to storm the cooling towers. But, no, there’s nothing like this in the book. Honestly, that was a huge bummer for me.

Naturally, of course now I feel like I could run a much better version of this — or make it the frame of an extended campaign — but I dunno if that will ever happen.

Call it con drop, but I think I need to take a serious look at how I practice this hobby.

40 thoughts on “Tales from the Loop at Chicago Gameday 46

  1. Mark Delsing​ Don’t beat yourself up about the game. We had fun, and we came to a nail-biting near-failure of a successful climax.

    Our version of “Eleven” was appropriately aloof & mysterious untl mid-adventure, and a gentle start seems entirely appropriate to a gang of kids adventure. If she’d shown up in scene one all “Reece from Terminator”, it would’ve felt way too abrupt. You presented her as a lonely outsider kid first. Her reveal as a savior from the future made a perfect mid-episode twist. That totally worked.

    I do think we spent too long on the R-map, but R-maps are a great tool. It gave us the links we needed to navigate our little circle of friends & acquaintances, and made the appearance of the punks seem organic. Likewise the sibling & family drama that formed the backdrop of our adventure. In a campaign/series, that stuff would become the dramatic arc for all kinds of character development. Don’t blame yourself for the limitations of the one-shot format.

    For a one-shot, maybe simplifying the R-map down to just a couple of links for each PC would work. As designed, its intended to provide fodder for a whole campaign. Stripped down, it would still provide dramatic hooks for a single episode. Hmmm…

  2. Aaron Griffin The plan? I had a plan?

    I had an NPC that, as Dain says, was essentially Reece from Terminator, but I hemmed and hawed about revealing her true nature, not doing so until almost the end. I realized I should have started the scenario that way. So much more hijinx, could have better used her as a fish-out-of-water character for the Kids to manage, and could have really ramped up her opposition, better threatening the Kids.

    Hiding the hook for too long is something I do all the freaking time. Trad gamer damage I guess.

  3. Dain Lybarger you’re too kind. I do agree that establishing the family ties was helpful.

    But, future events like this mean I need to dial down the r-map stuff a lot.

    I think I need to start play testing, too. I did it once before, maybe a decade ago, and it was incredibly helpful. But finding the time…

  4. Mark Delsing I finally did some playtesting for the first time with another con I ran the Strange for and it helped a LOT. I didn’t even run the whole adventure, just an encounter or two, and it made sure I boned up on odd parts of the rules that players had questions about.

    I can’t speak to this event, since I wasn’t in it, but man…Don’t sell yourself short–you’re an excellent GM and I’ve never not had a blast in your games, no matter how unusual the system–you made HERO look amazing years ago, I bought the book at Games Plus and then when I tried to read it later wondered what the hell sort of magic you’d cast on me.

  5. not had a blast in your games, no matter how unusual the system–you made HERO look amazing years ago, I bought the book at Games Plus and then when I tried to read it later wondered what the hell sort of magic you’d cast on me.]]>

  6. This happens to me too. Probably the players had a better time than you think. I agree the R-map can take over, especially in 1-shots (but to be honest building them can also be a lot of fun for everyone at the table so it is not necessarily time wasted). I think a one-shot can work with just 3-4 key NPCs that all of the PCs are connected to.

  7. Dude, the same thing happens to me every game day. I get my shit together, and as soon as I hit the table, my head fills with empty space.

    Which is weird, because i don’t think it happens anywhere else.

    I’ve wondered in the past if it has something to do with the big breakfast beforehand, but i can’t say for sure.

  8. 1st runs of new games are rough, including my run of City of mists that day. However, I had fun playing Nick and throwing rocks, blackmailing dad and having a crush on Stacey… Oh and having my twin help me level up my elf because I have trouble reading. That happened in your game! I’d play again

  9. Dave Michalak I wonder if it’s the afternoon slot. All of the coffee high from breakfast is gone by then, and, for this game, i know that at least three of us had been up since 4:00 a.m. or so.

    But, I dunno. I have had Gamedays where I felt totally spot-on and in control, so maybe it’s just me getting old and having less free time to prep.

  10. I definitely had fun. And that is no thanks to the system. TftL is not my cup of tea rules-wise. So that was all you and the other players. I probably wouldn’t have given this a shot with a GM who I’m not as sure could deliver a fun game.

    As for any disconnected looks (and even starting to nod off), that seems to be a frequent occurrence in the afternoon slot.

  11. Eh, I’ve played systems I like less with good GMs and had fun. It’s really just boils down to being a system I wouldn’t buy. If you run it again and the scenario sounds fun I’d probably play again. It was meant as less an indictment of the system and more a compliment to you.

  12. I’m planning on running this at an upcoming local con, and so its useful to hear your after play notes.

    Besides the interesting relationship web building in character creation the meta plot hidden in some cards is one of my favorite aspects of Mutant Year: Zero. It’s been frustrating to see that both Coriolis and Tales of the Loop exclude this element of play.

    Mysteries are tricky with RPG i’ve found. Balancing the exposition with moments of action. I found the best way forward sometimes is to be obvious. A blood trail into the sewers, or an eye witness reports seeing a man floating. The big question usually isn’t do they find out about it, but what will they do when they have all the information.

  13. Aaron Berger Another observation I would offer is that my players never came close to being broken, and they had ample Luck Points left by the time we got to the extended conflict that capped the session. I either was not offering enough Trouble, or the default is simply too much Luck for a one-shot. They easily had enough Conditions free to boost their successes on that last conflict, too.

    Plus, I need to double check whether you can Push, spend Luck, and do Pride all on the same roll.

    Also: siblings are awesome for a one-shot. Kids sharing parental issues was one of the highlights of the session for me.