Here’s a playlist of our first four (five) sessions of Masks, including Session 0 chargen, plus several plotagon video diaries players have done up.
A few notes:
Session 0 video was screwed up, so I turned that into an audio track with illustrative imagery.
Session 1 audio is jacked up – you can hear the GM fine and everyone else is EXTREMELY faint.
After that I ironed the bugs out, though honestly the whole thing works best as an audio podcast style thing, because we don’t do a LOT with the video except share illustrative memes while people are talking. 🙂
First, before getting into the “thinking” part, I’ll just embed this silly song with clips from a bunch of spaceship shows. Pop on some headphones and enjoy yourself.
Yesterday, the Evil Hat guys released a new “World of Adventure”; I’m a patron of the project, and thus far I have not in any way regretted my four bucks a month. While only a few of the books have been one hundred percent, out of the park grand slams for me, personally (Nest and Save Game spring to mind), I’ve found enjoyable and useful ideas and content in most everything.
The newest release, Deep Dark Blue, might be that rare bird – both something I’d want to run straight out of the box (remarkable, since I generally hate underwater scenarios), which also contains bits I’d happily lift and use in some other game.
The “liftable” thing in this case are the rules surrounding the submarine the players will crew, and the way in which the crew interacts with their vessel. The designers did a really nice job setting up what I think of as “shipboard drama” mechanics, in which the cohesiveness of the crew mechanically affects the ship’s general effectiveness. (For example: the captain’s ability to lead affects the ship’s stress track, and the collective “team stress track” (which can be harmed by manipulation and discord) can be used to soak damage that would otherwise harm the ship.)
As I said, it’s a compelling idea – one that plugs right in to how I see stories like Firefly and Farscape and BSG – and since I’m currently running a Star Wars game, one of the first things I thought upon reading it was “should I port this over?”
The answer, surprisingly, was “no.”
As I said in comments on Deep Dark Blue, yesterday:
I’ve come to realize that Star Wars, in default mode, isn’t really this kind of “spaceship scifi.” (One of the reasons I didn’t set up a big complicated ship-designing sub-system for the current game.)
It feels weird to say, given how big a deal and how iconic an x-wing or the Falcon is, but in terms of it being a ship-based drama, in which the dynamic of crew and their vessel is central, it’s just not that kind of thing, by default: the ships, while sometimes important to and emblematic of certain characters, generally just get you around and let you shoot guys.
And, later in the conversation:
Or, to say it much, MUCH more succinctly, in Star Wars, the ships matter, but crew dynamics do not, and mechanics aimed at crew dynamics (ship stress built from crew unity, for example) aren’t really scratching an itch Star Wars has.
I can’t decide if this realization is more surprising, or the fact that I took this long to notice.
Consider a situation where you’re starting up a new Star Wars game with these kinds of mechanics. People make up their heroes and at all times during the process, we try to focus on the fiction the game’s supposed to emulate. We get a retired clone trooper, a semi-legit transport pilot with a crappy ship she’d be happy to replace, a Naboo noble on the run from the Empire, and so forth.
Then we try to shoehorn this entirely legitimate and tonally accurate Star Wars group into the Deep Dark Blue ship mechanics.
“Okay, so who’s the captain?”
“Umm… well, Akana’s the pilot and owns the ship we’re on.”
“Great. What’s her Diplomacy?”
“laughs Yeah. That’s not really her thing. Why do I need that?”
“Well, you don’t need it, but it helps your crew work together and increases certain –”
“Crew? I fly the ship pretty much on my own.”
“Hey, I fix things…”
“Right. Kelvin fixes things, but everyone else is pretty much just… passengers. Like on the Falcon.”
“Yeah… good point. Hmm.”
And Akana’s player is totally right – that’s how Star Wars works. Firefly-style crew-as-dysfunctional-family? That’s not a thing. BSG-style master-and-commander life aboard a naval vessel? Also not a thing. Ships are cool and important, but that’s just not a dynamic basic Star Wars cares about.
(Note: You absolutely could do something like this in Star Wars; the WEG-era Darkstryder Campaign did it, and I’d be happy if Disney did something in that style with a spin-off movie, in the style of Rogue One – but if your aim is a ‘classic’ Star Wars game, then this isn’t part of that.)
And again, I’m a little surprised it took me this long to realize it: it’s been there, right in front of us, all along.
There’s no place to sleep on the Millenium Falcon.
I mean… yeah, sure, there probably is, but we have literally never seen that space in anything but “schematics of Star Wars” and RPG books. Hell, there’s only one flat surface where you can sit a plate down and eat something, and it’s the size of a hotel nightstand. All the stuff that has to do with people living – the kitchen, the head, the bunks – it’s not there, or (more accurately) it’s not important enough to show. The Falcon is a ship for getting from one place to the next, and sometimes shooting guys in between.
Hell, for all it’s supposed to be a tramp freighter, it doesn’t really have any cargo space. Dig around the deck plans for Star Wars ‘transport’ ships as long as you like, and you won’t find more than 2% that actually look like they could do the job they were meant to do, because the maps have to match the exterior, and the exterior of Star Wars ships follow an aesthetic of cool pulp action that has very little to do with day-to-day livability.
It’s one of the reasons, I think, that the biggest Star Wars ‘tv series’ (Clone Wars) focuses more Band of Brothers-type stuff – the only time we see ships, they’re shooting at each other, taking off, or landing. No one lives in the things. Rebels tries, at times, to push things in that direction, but it doesn’t work at least in part because you can’t portray and build a crew-as-family dynamic (even with Hera, the best space-mom ever) when you have no place on the ship with enough room for everyone to sit down at the same time.
(Contrast Serenity: Can you picture the cargo bay? Does it feel like a real cargo bay, on a ship meant to haul cargo from place to place? Where does everyone sleep? Do we ever see those spaces? Do you know how the toilets work, and where they are? How about the kitchen?)
I’m not in any way saying that one type of “spaceship story” is better or worse than another – I like em all (even Star Trek, a little), but it’s really important to be aware of the kind of stories the setting (and design aesthetic) assume, and work out mechanics that match those expectations.
As most of you know, I finished up a Fate game about a month ago that ran via Google Hangouts and the Roll20 plugin (session videos here). I’d originally thought it would run around 6 sessions (my rough estimate for a face to face tabletop environment with ~3.5 hour sessions), and it ended up at 9, not because Hangouts made it take longer (if anything, Hangouts and Roll20 sped things up) but because we ran shorter sessions of about 2 to 2.5 hours each.
It took right around 3 months to get in 9 ‘weekly’ sessions which, for adult gamers with many commitments, isn’t at all bad: 9 sessions in around 12 weeks, with one player suffering technical problems and another who lost a family member and was unavailable for a couple weeks. I entirely attribute this session/week ratio to the flexibility Hangouts gave us – no one had to travel to the game location, and thus no one had to budget extra time for packing up their stuff, getting presentable, driving over, and getting home after: they just logged at the right time, logged out at the end, and boom – they’re home already and there’s no gaming group to clean up after.
(Honestly, Hangouts made the game possible in the first place: player locations ranged from the east coast to Alaska.)
This setup (short-ish scenario, running to conclusion over a limited period of time) worked well, and based on that, there are at least a few other games I’d like to play pretty soon with, if anything, even shorter arcs. These include:
The Mountain Witch, which is pretty much designed for playing in two to three sessions, and which has a pretty non-crunchy system with nonetheless brutal mechanics.
Fiasco, maybe several times, using different play sets. I’ve never played this, but I have high hopes, and as a GMless game it appeals to me. I’ve actually built an “Amber Throne War” playset that I’d like to play…
That said, I can also see a couple decent ways to do longer running campaigns, and I might try one of them fairly soon, as well: I’m thinking of an Atomic Robo (Fate) campaign with a couple basic guidelines:
Scenarios that either wrap up in one session or which everyone understands may not resolve the very next week.
A rotating cast of characters.
A slightly larger pool of involved players than I’d want to GM, if they all showed up.
The idea here is a sort of “monster of the week” setup, where we play with whichever Tesladyne employees are available that week, and no one stresses out if they can’t make it. This would let us run regardless of schedule conflicts (potentially improving the session/week ratio even more) and, if we didn’t wrap up in one session, we’d have the option to continue that arc whenever that same group of players were available (maybe allowing in an additional action scientist in part 2 as surprise backup or whatever), rather than forcing a delay until all those same players could make it.
(Also worth considering: with the folks playing, there’s a better than normal chance that some sessions would have a guest GM and I could just play, which would be awesome.)
Pretty much the same setup would work (I think) with Ryan M. Danks’s Jadepunk (which is built mostly on the very pickup-friendly Fate Accelerated and Ryan’s own design kung-fu), though I’m pretty sure some kind of over-arching metaplot would creep in on that one, just because of the setting. I consider that a feature.
I plan to pitch this (these?) to my Google+ gaming peeps pretty soon and see who’s interested.
“But first, I believe formal introductions are in order.”
The statement hangs in the air for more than a few moments, bringing silence to the booth at the late-night public house.
Finally, [Dave] speaks up: “Victor Edwards.”
I held up a Fate point. “I will give this to you if you now finish the sentence: ‘I think I was…'”
“I think I was…” says Victor, “someone in Her Majesty’s service.”
“Ah,” replies [Kim]. “I’m pleased to make your acquaintance. I’m Ophelia Stevens.” (A name Victor seems to associate with the scandalsheet-populating hijinx of the youthful nobility.)
“Just call me Red,” says Red, and turns to their large companion.
“Barnaby Cornelius Crispin,” he murmurs. Seems he’s got a name that matches his stature.
Once introductions are done and everyone basically shares what they are willing to share. From there, they decide to check out the boarding house for which they have a key.
Situated just south of Eden Park at the northern tip of Merchant’s Gate, the Cassius is an old and respected boarding house fallen upon hard times.
The building itself is a three-story affair with a common room, six guest rooms, and indoor plumbing.
One of the rooms here was apparently rented out by Jack Smith.
Smith’s boarding house room is a humble affair: bedroom/living room/table/everything else. It contains a bed, dresser, wardrobe, table, chair, and lamp. Objects of note:
A small, snub-nosed revolver sits on top of a dresser, next to a few playing cards. It’s not loaded. It doesn’t match the holster that Smith was wearing.
Five playing cards. The cards are Jacks of five different suits: spades, clubs, hearts, diamonds, and… crosses?
There is a flyer for the Society of Free Thought on a small table, just like the one at Smith’s house, except this one is covered with scribbles from Smith.
Also on the table with the Society flyer is small a collection of photographs. One photograph is a picture of a symbol carved in stone above a door: an eye in a circle (the same symbol as the one carved in the handle of the supposed murder weapon).
The other three seem to be surveillance-style photographs of two men meeting.
Off to the Cherub
Once the group feels as though they have found everything there is to find, they get out of the boarding house and head (at Barnaby’s request) to the Cherub, where he remembers being fairly often. Turns out the Cherub is a fairly nice place… where not-nice things are arranged for. Barnaby has the other three taken to a private room, and meets up with a petite blonde woman named Cassiel, who is the Cherub’s ‘fixer’ – someone who sets up wealthy patrons with just the right person for an unseemly job. She’s also ostensibly the sous chef. Life is funny that way.
Cassiel knows Barnaby and seems to have a bit of a thing for him, and is quite willing to help him out with his questions. She recognizes the younger man in the photos – some politician nicknamed “Velvet” – though she only knows that the older guy in the suit and robe is one of the more prominent members of the Society of Conscious Thought, though she can’t say what his name is.
Barnaby gets a few more questions answered and arranges to make contact with Cassiel later, then gathers up everyone else and heads toward the Society of Conscious Thought, with a brief stop to pick up some ammunition for Victor’s recently acquired handgun.
As befits the hall of an ostensibly secret society, the Hall of Free Thought looks small and unassuming from the outside, with only the Society’s symbol (an eye in a circle) outwardly marking it.
No doorman guards the door, though there is a desk with a receptionist of sorts just inside the door, in the foyer.
The inside of the Hall is considerably more opulent than the outside. As much of the Hall is underground, it is a much larger building than it seems to be from the outside. The Hall contains a vast common room furnished with couches, chairs, tables, and a bar. This is where members of the Society gather to see and be seen, and to engage in stimulating conversation. The occasional card game is played here, though high-stakes gambling is strictly prohibited within the Hall.
The four, escorted in by Carolyn, immediately notice the large portrait prominently displayed in the main room, obviously the robed gentleman from the surveillance photos. Carolyn informs them that is “The Beneficient One” – head of the Society.
The Beneficent One is around, but probably will not be out in the common area tonight, explains Carolyn. Mr. Tock, another senior member, will very likely be out soon, following a meeting, however.
The four basically kill time for a bit, with Mr. Crispin casing the place, Victor sitting down with the younger men playing at cards, Ophelia poking through the bookshelves, and Red getting a drink from the bartender and the other end of the room.
Victor’s learns from the junior members playing poker that only a few rooms past the common room are open to members of their level, with private rooms available to those that live in the House, and even more secure chambers reserved for the senior members who run the Society, such as Mr. Tock and The Beneficent One.
Ophelia spots all of the “six books” she saw at Jack Smith’s house, but not repeated in any suspicous manner. She also spots (and secures) two pages of a rather odd little test, apparently left behind on a small side table.
Mr. Crispin verifies that all the doors out of the common room are locked.
Red is having a frustrating conversation with the barman, who is on his guard and not likely to chat with a patron of the Society, or share secrets about his employers.
An odd thing happens as Barnaby comes over to check in on Red.
First, Red tries to convince him that he really does want to help her and, in the same way she likes to take apart the mechanisms of things they’ve been finding, it seems as though she actually does that – take the man’s head apart a bit and put it together in a way that’s more suitable to her needs.
Something sort of rings in Barnaby’s head when she does this. He leans against the bar, nods to the barkeep, and says “Hello, old friend,” and – just like that, the barkeep is an old friend of his – has always been an old friend of his, in fact, and how could he have forgotten something like that?
Ophelia and Victor notice … something… when this happens, and both turn toward the bar, just as a door into the room opens and a well-dressed man steps through.
Good evening, he says, smiling at Ophelia. “I am Mr. Tock. I hope I can help you.”
And that’s where things ended. Next session: Tonight!