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Author Topic: [BW] Anatomy of A Disaster  (Read 3792 times)
Luke
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« on: March 17, 2005, 10:49:29 PM »

I should probably post the AP thread about the exultant end to the Must Kill Wizard game, but I thought it'd be fun to talk about the darker side of actual play.

I like to run big games at cons. Big games. 20 person games. But I was tired of running my 20 person Poisonous Ambition (PA), so I designed a new scenario called a Web of Nests to feature the Monster Burner Roden and Great Spiders.

PA grew/bloated into a 20 person game. It was designed for 6-8 players, but it expanded nicely into a full blown "you play the whole damn clan" game.

Web of Nests was painstakingly designed so that every character had a complex stake across a network of 20 characters.

It hurt my head to build it -- 20 sets of Beliefs, Instincts and Relationships. Oy vey.

I had 16 players show up for the game. 5 of which were over 18, I think.

The first warning signs: Everyone wanted to play the super-death-kill-machine character. Fortunately, a very competent and dedicated player got ahold of her. The only fortunate event of the night.

Second warning sign: I started to call out other characters and no one was jumping or biting. Admittedly their roles are obscure, "scavengers, scratchers, negotiators, kidnappers"  but I felt like the group had other expectations for what was on offer. Even the "experienced players" (read 18+) were just shrugging their shoulders as I read off the possibilities.

We had two young men bite for the two top slots in the game hierarchy. One of which had never played BW before, one of which had played a half dozen times and was rather proficient with the mechanics.

But the rest of the characters, by and large, I had to hand out and force upon players.

And now for comedy. We kicked off this scenario as I do all my big con games: I narrate the overall opening scening, the complication and the conflict at hand. The short of it: You're a nest of rat-men, you live beneath a big city, great spiders have invaded your tunnels, but you've got them trapped in a ventilation shaft. What do you do?

They blinked and then all started to shout at once. First instinct? Shoot 'em! A fine plan, but I demonstrated what happened to characters who got too close to the shaft -- a poor hapless NPC was snatched and devoured right before their eyes.

Now what? I was expecting some creative thinking -- doubly because one of the rats is aptly named "THE BRAIN." No sir. Not them. They left. Up and left. Gone. Went back into their nest proper. Started in-fighting.

You leave? All of you? Yes! Well, without delay, out come the spiders. They rapidly began hunting and killing the rats with aplomb and efficiency. Oy vey.

The two scenario hitches that I simply assumed would not happen: I never imagined the rats would simply leave these horrible monsters to their own devices. Shame on me! Nor did I imagine, given the set up an kickers for the spiders, that the arachnids would work together. It's just not in the story, but one of those kids just wanted to be Mr Powerful Sorcerer Pants and screw over the other players. So instead of intense interpersonal social dynamics, we get powergaming. Oh well.

So, first lesson learned: If there is a disastrous, scenario-ending out to be taken, the players will run toward it at such a high-velocity they will crash through any plate-glass veneer you've installed over it.

I knew this in my gut, but I guess I just needed an extremely mortifying reminder.

Second lesson: It's the GM's job to assess the capabilities of the players. At one point very early on, I asked  the young gentleman who was playing the number two spot what he was going to do with all this leaving behavior. "I'm leaving, too!" he said.
"You are? Didn't you read the back of your character sheet? The set up?"
"I didn't know it was there!"
"I specifically told you to read it. Read it now."
"I don't understand it. I don't know what this means."
"Don't understand it? READ IT AGAIN!" I was not happy. I reread it myself. It could use a second draft, but it wasn't terribly unclear. (I'm not going to say what it was in public, because it's pertinent to the bangs of the scenario.)

Yes, so if you've got characters that need powerful players behind them, then pick your targets wisely. This is a bit of Ugly Truth of gaming. Not all players are equal. Certain players better take on certain roles.  



This was the first game I've ever had players walk out of. It was horrible. It spun so rapidly out of control -- and no one was willing to take the reins -- it was all I could do not to walk out.

Anyway, I'm not too sore over it at this point. It's rapidly turned into something to laugh at. But still, lessons learned!

Hope to see you all at ICON. We're going to try it again, but tweaked.
-L
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Callan S.
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« Reply #1 on: March 18, 2005, 02:15:09 AM »

Quote
They blinked and then all started to shout at once. First instinct? Shoot 'em! A fine plan, but I demonstrated what happened to characters who got too close to the shaft -- a poor hapless NPC was snatched and devoured right before their eyes.

Now what? I was expecting some creative thinking -- doubly because one of the rats is aptly named "THE BRAIN." No sir. Not them. They left. Up and left. Gone. Went back into their nest proper. Started in-fighting.

Looking at it, it may not have sparked their creativity to tell them what they can't do.

Not quite so sure how, but some sort of 'Well, that would get you X result, but other combinations would easily get you X+10 result'. Carrot and less carrot, rather than carrot and stick.
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Philosopher Gamer
<meaning></meaning>
Larry L.
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Posts: 616

aka Miskatonic


« Reply #2 on: March 18, 2005, 04:09:18 AM »

Hmm. This reinforces certain impressions I have formed about BW.
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BirdMan
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Posts: 18


« Reply #3 on: March 18, 2005, 07:03:39 AM »

Oh, I hope to GOD you run Web of Nests at Gencon this year!  

It sounds as cool/cooler than Poisonous Ambition, because of the "web" of relationships.  After reading the Roden section in the Monster Burner, I can see the potential of the race for roleplaying.  It's interesting you pulled up the Spiders as well... I wouldn't have necessarily thought those two would go together in a single game.  Nonetheless, I'd play the scenario just for another taste of BW; but as described, Web of Nests looks like just what I love to do in a game:  Pull the troops together to resolve the big problem.  It's interesting that apparently nobody at the table "got" that.

But you're right -- half of the GM's job is to assess the players:  what they'll be able to handle; what they're there for...  I think that would be tough in a small group environment--and you set yourself up with half a classroom.  Man, you're brave!

Which brings up an interesting question.  Were all the players Roden?  I wonder how different things would have been if some of the players were the spiders?

Anyway, I hope you can post some more about Web of Nests --with some better outcomes for yourself as well as the players!
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"You want to do what to the Balrog?"
--Anxious DM quote #35
Thor Olavsrud
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« Reply #4 on: March 18, 2005, 07:22:54 AM »

Quote from: BirdMan
Which brings up an interesting question.  Were all the players Roden?  I wonder how different things would have been if some of the players were the spiders?


Both spiders in the scenario were PCs.
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Luke
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« Reply #5 on: March 18, 2005, 07:28:53 AM »

Quote from: Miskatonic
Hmm. This reinforces certain impressions I have formed about BW.


Larry, I mean this in the most neighborly fashion possible:

What the fuck does that mean?

Birdman: I'm fairly confident that our tweaks to the scenario will yield better results.

-L
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BirdMan
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Posts: 18


« Reply #6 on: March 18, 2005, 08:20:24 AM »

Just to satisfy my curiosity ('cause of the 16 players thing and my impressions of a large group game from last GenCon)...

Did you have characters with logical connections sitting together?  (You note that I'm trying not to ask questions specific to the scenario so as to enjoy it the most when/if I get to play it at GenCon.  But I'm not stalking you, I swear!)
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"You want to do what to the Balrog?"
--Anxious DM quote #35
Luke
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« Reply #7 on: March 18, 2005, 08:25:08 AM »

Quote from: BirdMan
Did you have characters with logical connections sitting together?


Yes, that's part of all of the big scenarios that I run. The big man sits in the middle, and the underlings and advisors flank him. The social dynamic it creates is vital for such large games.

-L
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Bankuei
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« Reply #8 on: March 18, 2005, 10:06:21 AM »

Hi Luke,

I'm sure you have way more experience with demos than I do running stuff for new people, but in general, I've found the larger the group and the newer the people the more you have to simplify the situation.  BW is a great game, but BITs are definitely something that requires higher brain functions than "Me kill."

Some things that may help you (for large, unfiltered groups of random people)

-Stick with humans, people understand humans.  Mostly anyway.

-If you're going with 20 odd people, break them up into 4-5 man groups or teams, and let the experienced BW folks lead them.  They serve as leaders within the game, and leaders of "how the system works" outside of the game as well.  Saves you effort.

-BITs= Goal  Write at the top of character sheets in big thick black marker what each character's (general) goal is.  2+2 is only easy for some people, the rest need it spelled out.

-Artha- make it exceedingly clear what Artha is rewarded for (BITs)!!!  Verbally explain an example("If you do X, then you get Artha)

-Politics- come up with a few really loaded characters to vie with each other and conflict- most people will be happy with random "meat monkeys"

Save the super fun and complex stuff for your 5/5/5 con!

Chris
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Luke
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« Reply #9 on: March 18, 2005, 10:17:31 AM »

Chris,

thanks for the advice. You've basically highlighted the bullet points for my past two successful massive-multiplayer demos.

Except the thing about the humans. That I don't get. I've found it's generally more exciting for players to jump into either a taboo fantasy archetype (Orcs) or an standard trope with a twist (the Dwarves and Elves from The Gift).

And the "meat monkeys" thing, too. Don't get that one. Everyone needs a stake. Everyone needs to be loaded for bear in the scenario with a reason to get in and mix it up.

Subtlety is an interesting bird in these games. Too subtle, and some folks just won't get it. But if I write direct goals like, "You've got a beef with Pinky. It's time to settle up." We get idiotic behavior like, "Luke, Luke! I kill Pinky now!" What? Why? You're going to get caught! (And you're going to take him out of the game!)

So a balance must be struck. And it's hard to hit it the first time out. But I'm very pleased to be able to keep trying.
-L
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Bill Cook
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Posts: 501


« Reply #10 on: March 18, 2005, 10:27:16 AM »

It sounds like the scenario is an Aliens III knock off. Are the spiders so tough that they slay with impunity if allowed to escape the shaft? Shooting fish in a barrel would be boring, so I get why you discouraged that. So what are their options? It sounds like the main thrust of the scenario is to work together or get picked off, one by one. Did you want to roleplay (1) discovering tactics or (2) experiencing prescribed tactics in action? If it's the former, you must insure a viable implementation for each approach (i.e. no matter what they say they do, it must possibly lead to progress). If it's the latter, you've got to hand them a prepared menu.

16 players? You're crazy! ;)
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Bankuei
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« Reply #11 on: March 18, 2005, 10:29:49 AM »

Hi Luke,

Well, Elves, Orcs, and Dwarves are standard fantasy tropos, players can jump into those pretty easily.  I think the key point is the further you get away from things people are familiar with "culturally" the harder of a time you have trying to get people to pick it up and run with it.  Your rat-men are more than just Warhammer Skaven("We're dirty! We spread disease!  We kill!"), and for a good deal of players out there, they won't get it.

As far as the "meat monkeys", I'm not saying they shouldn't have any goals, but the goals have to be fairly clear and simple to follow("so-and-so is your brother, protect him at all costs...") etc.  If you decide to apply interconflict stuff, you need to make it clear on the sheet what the catch is.  

"You got beef with Pinky- but you gotta keep him alive long enough to find out X..."  

The catch sometimes is just common sense("Uh, you gotta make this guy pay, but you don't want the everyone else to kick your ass!"), but clearly common sense doesn't happen all that often in gaming(and I would argue outside of it either...)

Chris
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Kesher
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Posts: 174


« Reply #12 on: March 18, 2005, 12:42:13 PM »

Quote from: Luke

You are? Didn't you read the back of your character sheet? The set up?"
"I didn't know it was there!"
"I specifically told you to read it. Read it now."
"I don't understand it. I don't know what this means."
"Don't understand it? READ IT AGAIN!" I was not happy. I reread it myself. It could use a second draft, but it wasn't terribly unclear. (I'm not going to say what it was in public, because it's pertinent to the bangs of the scenario.)


LOL!  I don't know how young you meant by "young man", but as a high school English teacher, I get to participate in this dialogue pretty much every day... :P

I've not played BW yet, though I'm hoping to pick up a game of it at some point with my fellow indieMN gamers; however, I understand it's a bit crunchy.  Was this kid the one who was familiar with the game or not?  If not, what kind of experiences have you had at cons with player 18- ?  My experience with teens tells me that their grasp on details is tenuous at best...
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Thor Olavsrud
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« Reply #13 on: March 18, 2005, 02:05:13 PM »

I dunno. Structurally, I don't think there's much wrong with the scenario, except for the location where it opened, that led some people to think they could disengage from the conflict up front. It's been altered so the Roden now have no choice but to face up to the conflict somehow.

From discussions with others, I think the major problem was the attention span and mindset of the kids (I believe they're around 14 now). These kids have played a lot of Burning Wheel at this particular con (3 or 4 times now). In the past their play has led to very satisfying results. For whatever reason, this time around, they were not focused or invested in making the game the best they could.  As Brennan noted, they played in his Conspiracy of Shadows scenario earlier in the day with similar results.

The next day, after some sleep, they came back and played in Luke's The Gift scenario with very satisfying results.
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Luke
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« Reply #14 on: March 18, 2005, 02:39:42 PM »

Hi Kesher,

This was not a game mechanical issue. It was a matter of him reading and understanding three very short paragraphs of IC prose.

So I think your sympathies are in the right place. ;)
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