Finally had a chance for a full Sweet Dreams session, with friends and experienced players, using custom characters. It's the first time I've played it outside of a convention demo in a year, and it felt great, despite the stress about trying to get the books GenCon ready.
The group started out as Chad (a close friend of mine who had played several versions of this game years ago), and Greg (a friend from game design school, who played in an 8-month campaign of the last version). We were joined partway through by Aaron (FarFromUnique, who is working with me on the current version). None of the players had met before. I was GM and host.
We spent 3 hours making custom characters (as opposed to the pregens, or even quick template characters). Considering that Greg and Chad both chose complex character types, 3 hours seems about right. These are experienced players, they knew what they wanted. I mostly left them alone, but I was on hand to help them. New players would have taken a lot longer, but hopefully new players would follow the book's suggestion and use Templates for their first few characters.
Chad built Dr. Worm, a 1-inch Mutant worm Rebel drummer. Chad had been talking about this concept (based on a They Might Be Giants Song) for years, and it was fun to get to see him make that concept live in Sweet Dreams rules. Chad gave Dr. Worm the Force Field Power, because I'd told him it was a new Ability that needed testing.
Greg built Devin, a Goth Dreamwalker Occultist. He got lost trying to convert the Human Occultist Template into a Dreamwalker, so that may need more explanation in the book. Greg chose an Occultist because I'd told him I'm currently rewriting the magic system, and it needed testing.
Aaron showed up with Zack, a Template-built Lucky Human Geek. Zack is one of the standard, sample characters from the book.
Since both characters were male, I gave them both Passions for the same girl. Chad and Greg had both chosen lots of Subplots, so I had a lot of Bang options to start them off. I went for the easy one, Devin's Constant Incantation Subplot. I framed the scene in their math class, and had Devin called up to do a math equation on the board. I narrated Devin unconsciously casting a spell, and the chalk board came to life and attacked the class. The players' first actions were rolling against fear, and rolling initiative.
I don't know if I've ever jumped straight into combat like that before, but it did start the story off strong. Combat was fast even though I made a lot of mistakes (mostly forgetting how the new Force Field Power worked)and we had to retro one round. I'd also overestimated the characters, and chosen much too strong a monster for the animate chalkboard. Both characters were unconscious before the monster had taken any damage. Highlight of the scene was Devin trying to electrocute the monster with a found extension cord. It didn't work (because the critter was out of their league), but it was a cool idea.
Devin and Dr. Worm wake up in the nurse's office, where the Anne, student nurse's assistant (Dr. Worm's Crush) debriefs them and acts suspicious. Rumor is some students were hurt when the chalkboard collapsed, some were hallucinating from a gas leak, and Heather (the girl both characters Like) has been taken to the hospital.
The rest of the day at School, Devin and Dr. Worm split up. Devin does some magic ritual scenes to heal them both, Dr. Worm flirts with Anne, and they talk to their Contacts.
After School they go to the hospital to visit Heather together. Greg reminds me that Devin can see into the Dreaming at all times, and I make the hospital into a volcano in he Dreaming.
Aaron joined us via MSN Messenger and headphones. I was worried this would turn into a test of the hardware and distract from the game session, but it worked really smoothly.
I introduced Zack as having been hurt in the classroom when the "chalkboard collapsed", and he was just being released from the hospital. The three characters met up, and bluffed their way into the sealed Trauma Ward under the unlikely pretense that Dr. Worm was a real doctor. Dr. Worm's surprising Charisma was backed up by Chad's string of lucky rolls, and the plan worked. There were close calls, colorfuls lies, fast thinking, it was a fun scene.
At Heather's hospital room, Dr. Worm and Zack try untrained Medicine rolls on the poor girl, while Devin shifts into the Dreaming to protect Heather there. Devin finds a Bogeyman trying to sacrifice Heather to the volcano, but I made the Bogeyman a minor threat because Devin was facing him alone. Zack made a truly uncanny Medicine roll, and was just adjusting Heather's IV when Devin cast a Healing Spell from the Dreaming.
Devin was forced to rush the Spell because of the Bogeyman. He failed the Spell roll, and he had taken a Flaw that demanded really nasty Backfires for his failed Spells. I saw the coincidence of the two unlikely rolls, and chose for the miscast Healing Spell to kill Heather. Zack knew that he had set the IV correctly, but as soon as he did, Heather died. There was no way of proving that she had really been killed in her Dream. This was classic Sweet Dreams stuff.
Everyone suffered Heartache because Heather had died, but Zack got hit the worst. They all fled the hospital, orderlies hot on their tail.
The characters split up again. Devin went to research a Resurrection Spell, and made the difficult roll to find the Spell in only 3 hours, and cast it by morning. So the players knew Heather would be resurrected, but the characters didn't.
Dr. Worm talked to a philosopher contact, and learned that he could still find Heather's Spirit in Dreams. So, that night in the Dreaming, Dr. Worm and Zack went to the volcano to find her. I think the players were disappointed that they found Heather so easily, but it was late, and I was building towards an ending. Heather didn't want to live again, she was ready to die. This bit was full of good roleplaying and fun dialogue. Dr. Worm cheering Zack up, and the two of them convincing Heather (who was a Goth) that she would be even cooler after returning from death with some interesting scars. Again, classic Sweet Dreams.
So when Heather came back to School the next day, she and Zack and Dr. Worm all thought that they had saved her. None of them knew that Devin was responsible for all of it. The chalkboard monster is still on the loose. Maybe they'll deal with that next week.
I think Aaron is right in limiting the number of starting Subplots. I let players choose up to 10, so they always choose 10. 10 Subplots each is too many for the players to remember to roleplay (Chad, we forgot Dr. Worm's Truthful Subplot, and he was lying all night!).
The book really needs a step-by-step example of character creation if players are going to build these kind of complex custom characters on their own.
I'm very pleased with the new magic system. Greg was able to build custom Spells on his own, the ritual scenes themselves were always different, and the only failed Spell roll resulted in a fun plot twist. A starting Freshman character with access to Resurrection does seem very powerful, and Greg is already working on ways to speed up Devin's casting time. It will be tricky making death a credible threat with him around.
I think all the combat mistakes, including the overpowered monster, are the result of my rushing. After 3 hours making characters, I wanted something to happen! If we'd taken a break, I'd planned a bit, and re-read Force Field, that would have gone smoother. I definately want to try more combat before I print theserules (http://sweetdreams.acwpd.com/Playtester.html).
As Allan detailed above, I created Dr. Worm. What he didn't note was that there was no need to compromise either the character or the rules (in any fashion) to do so. This was almost disappointing in a way; as we were play testing, I was hoping to make Allan squirm a little. ;) Instead, the system was able to describe the character (and with in-game specifics) better than I had been able to myself. I'll get you next time, system! (Though this means that I will have to think of something more wack than a worm...)
I'm unsure how long ago the changes took place, but I appreciate the revisions to the skill system. By grouping like skills together, yet still allowing individual skill purchases, skills have been made simpler without losing character resolution. I think some work still needs to be done in balancing the groupings. Intentional redundencies between groups are fine are fine, but every worm I spoke with agreed that Wilderness could use a little something something!
As I looked back on the completed character, I realized that in making my second mutant, I'd missed out on the opportunity to try out another of Sweet Dreams' Natures (correct me if that's the wrong term). While Dr. Worm turned out better than I expected, I'll definately be testing something different next time. Faerie or Dreamwalker, I do think.
Jumping into combat within the first few minutes was certainly a nice rules refresher. Though there's more math than I remembered, it's all taken off before play starts, provided you've compeleted your character sheet properly.
Being outmatched from the word go was interesting. While I didn't feel powerless, I certainly did feel as if Dr. Worm was burning through his options all too quickly to keep up the battle. Even more so than Sweet-Dreams-usual, combat was over and done with quite soon. In contrast to many other games I've played, our defeat advanced the story along quite well. Though we were bested, Dr. Worm did wake up to the lovely Anne tending his wounds... :)
Sweet Dreams allows for a good deal of player-driven story. I don't know if downtime is quite the word for it, but when time is turned over to the players (really the default setting, at least as Allan runs it), it always seems like there is so much to do. The major reason for this is obviously Sub-Plots, but a lot also comes from the non-mechanical--merely the setting itself.
Allan has already pointed out the two most archetypal moments of the system within the session. Heather's death and her subsequent turn around are representative reasons why I want more people to experience this game.
In a session where much was revealed, so much more was concealed. This is almost always the case, from my experience with Sweet Dreams. It matters not whether this translates into sub-plots or plays out (without mechanics) later in the story; quixotic entanglement is off to a great start!
I'm not sure how well I've done in setting down my thoughts. Questions from Allan, Greg, and especially the rest of you would be greatly appreciated. :)
Quote from: AllanDevin was forced to rush the Spell because of the Bogeyman. He failed the Spell roll, and he had taken a Flaw that demanded really nasty Backfires for his failed Spells. I saw the coincidence of the two unlikely rolls, and chose for the miscast Healing Spell to kill Heather. Zack knew that he had set the IV correctly, but as soon as he did, Heather died. There was no way of proving that she had really been killed in her Dream. This was classic Sweet Dreams stuff.
Currently I'd say that's classic you as GM, rather than something to do with the game system. Do the rules help to spot such a moment and help you to do something like knock off an NPC? So that if I played the game, I could get a classic SD moment like this without needing you to GM me?
Great question Noon. Sorry it's taken me so long to reply, but I had to think about that one. The following rules encourage moments like this:
-Because Heather appeared on more than one PC's character sheet (as a Passion), she was a Star NPC, and a focus of plot events.
-Rushing Magic or other complex actions is possible, but risky.
-Backfire Spell effects are left up to the Guide, but the rules suggest reversing the intended effect, with the specific example of healing Spells doing damage.
-Death is rarely permanent, and is more often the beginning of a transformative experience that makes life more complicated for everyone involved.
-Most important is the multiple levels of reality. The characters were all involved in the scene, even though Devin was in the Dreaming, and the others were awake. Individual characters experienced the same events in different ways. This is all through the rules, there are many different mechanical ways for characters to perceive different versions of the same events. This is a defining feature of the system, and mostly what I meant by classic SD.
I'm aware that there are elements of my GM style that are not made explicit in the rules, and I'm currently working on a tips and techniques section for the Guidebook to help new Guides create the kind of stories I envisioned for the game. "Watch for coincidences and use them" might make a useful tip, but that's more about GM style than rules.
Perhaps really high/low rolls should be written down on a sheet of paper, to help influence play latter. If you get some really high roll you can look at the sheet and see if there's some low roll (occuring at a different level of reality) and then use the connection seen between them. The closer the two rolls are, the more intense the effect.