The Shadow of Yesterday: Freebooters One-Shot (Second Run), Post-mortem

So the HQ: Firefly game that we’d slotted to run on Friday didn’t come off. I think I need to restructure how we’re trying to make that game scheduling work. The current thing isn’t working — one every three months is barely gaming, let alone a campaign — and I’d really like it to.
So, with four interested players present, I decided to pull out the “Freebooters” scenario and pre-gen character that I’d used only two days previous with a mixed group of strangers, people I’ve played with a lot, and people I haven’t GM’d much a’tall, and see what THEY thought of the system.
The Good:
* A lot of laughing around the table and enjoyment, I thought.
* I think I set stakes pretty well in most cases, so that if the players won the conflict (which didn’t happen much, as noted in ‘ugly’, below), the results were cool, and if they failed, the complications were ALSO cool. Easiest example for that was “If you win, you get the lock open before the Guy comes back… if you fail, he comes back before you open the lock.” The player failed, and in walks The Guy. It was part of what made up what was probably the best scene of the evening.
* I tried to remember and use “Failure Doesn’t Mean the Character Looks Bad”, but there’s a corollary to this: “They CAN look bad, especially if that’s what the player wants.” There were a couple of failure-situations during the evening where player simply thought it would be cooler/funnier if their character just really flubbed up and looked kinda silly doing it. De really blew a “convince them I’m not a witch” conflict, and Lee actually had his character set his own beard on fire as the result of a too-cunning-plan-gone-wrong. It was fine for a one-shot, and honestly that kind of slapstickyness does fit the pirate genre pretty darn well, provided the characters get to turn around and be cool thereafter (which both did).
* Players taking charge and doing some aggressive scene-framing. This fell along the lines of “ooh, that thing with Jackie is cool for my character too: I want to be there. Jackie can I be there with you? Yeah? Okay, I’m there,” and lo, it was good.
The Bad
* Dogs in the Vineyard has this rule for the GM: “Say Yes or roll dice. I said ‘no’ on two occasions when I should have rolled dice or just said Yes. As impossible as I thought it was, I should have just dropped penalty dice on one of the sneak thief’s more hair-brained schemes, set Stakes, and let the situation fall out as it would, and I shouldn’t have balked Dave’s request for a few more XP from his Key as a result of a cunning plan. That last thing? I don’t even know WHY I did it. It was stupid.
* I wasn’t weaving the character’s scenes very well — there was too much downtime for some of the players, and not enough going on in the other scenes to interest them, AND *way* too much “wandering off when I’m not playing”, which was partly fed by the other two issues, and partly by outside factors, and it just made things not-hum. Also, when the other players aren’t really paying attention to or interested in your scene, you’re less likely to get Gift Dice from them spontaneously.
* Laughing and enjoyment is some good peanut butter to put on a sandwich, but I spread it out unevenly — too thick in some places, too thin in others, which means that I think the girls got a lot of screen time and the guys not as much. I just didn’t manage that very well. This ties into the scene-weaving problem as well, and contributed to the results.
The Ugly
* I was rolling really well, and the players were, as a group, rolling absolute shite. All night. It was truly atrocious. They would roll bad, then spend a pool point to get bonus dice, and the bonus dice would suck… and someone would give them Gift Dice, and they’re roll THEM, and they would suck EVEN WORSE. It made things a little frustrating for the players at times, I think; difficult to narrate at times, for me; and sort of ate into (1) the suspension of disbelief and (2) the enjoyment of the system and (3) their faith in their character’s competency.
* I used the exact same pattern for starting play as I did on Wednesday, part of which involved explaining the rules by using the character sheet right after everyone had selected their character for the evening. The problem that arose was that that period of play was the absolute worst 30 to 40 minutes of the evening for unavoidable non-play interruptions, which meant that for almost every one of the Six Key Points I needed to cover, I had to repeat myself at least once and maybe even four separate times to make sure everyone heard, didn’t check for understanding, got tired of giving the same examples over and over… and all that resulted in some confusing during play and mistakes. I’m not sure how I could have worked that better, except for maybe just jumping right into play, but that carries it’s own problems, so… that might simply have been out of my hands, somewhat — I’d avoided it on Wednesday night by having no kids around at all and no extraneous distractions, but that’s not something that’s going to be possible for years and years in my regular group.
All in all: fun night, definitely. One frustration was that we didn’t actually finish (some scenes ran quite long, the intro-rules portion ran about double of the first session, we were really laughing it up at times, and for whatever reason my regular group runs slower than a convention-style group) and I’m not sure when I can schedule a sequel without ‘using up’ a time slot in which I could be trying to get the Firefly game humming along regularly.
There is a lot to be said, as a GM, for having a simple, wide-open, reusable scenario with some easy-to-grasp pregen characters, then running the scenario two or three times with totally different groups; it helps you work on scenes and techniqutes where you didn’t do as well as you’d like “the last time”, it helps you hone some of your better tricks, and it illustrates in a very clear way how your player-friends are different from one another, AND similar. The danger in doing all that is that you can get in a bit of a rut, expecting people to react to a situation the same way as ‘last time” (they never do) and (the CARDINAL sin for repeat-sessions) tempts you to tell a later group some cool thing a PREVIOUS group did in a similar situation. Keep that crap to yourself — maybe forever, and at LEAST until the end of the session.


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