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[Questers of the Middle Realms] Under-prepping

Started by Ian Charvill, March 11, 2007, 07:19:28 AM

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Ian Charvill

In a nutshell: offering to run a game system that you've never run before while you've got a major project going on at work and at the same time you're moving house into a place that needs not insignificant work on it (25000 of those little American dollars minimum) may leave you with insufficient time to prep effectively.  I'm using a couple of simple strategies along with a high trust (essentially, player defined traits) system to see if we can get by on less than, say thirty minutes prep per two hour session and still have a somewhat traditional rpg experience.  I'm writing this before the first play session, so it's possible that this might all fall flat in actual play.

General social and system stuff first:

Questers of the Middle Realms is written by Tim Gray & based on Chad Underkoffler's PDQ system.  Tim was the Best Man at my wedding last year.  I'm running the game for Grant (an old university friend who introduced me to Claire, my wife) and his two step kids Rheece (13-ish) and Jana (11-ish).  So the group has a large age and rpg experience range.

First low prep strategy: get them to create characters first.  I don't have time to brainstorm a lot of stuff, so if I can get other people to come up with it as well, things will be speeded up.

About a week or two ago we sit down to make characters.  We don't have a huge amount of time, because we want to fit in a game of Pirates! before the kids go to bed( having just bought a couple of packs from the new Pirates of the Frozen North expansion).  I think this – not having enough time to agonise over things – along with the generally 'silly' tone of the material helped creatively (no time to agonise plus if you aiming for silly you don't have to censor ideas because they might sound silly).

So we ended up with three characters:

Chopoopoo the 1st Level Elf
Virtue: Brave
Vice: Greedy
Qualities: Good [+2] Elf, Poor [-2] Elf, Good [+2] Homeland: Tek Wei, Good [+2] Organisation: Animals, Average [+0] Turns into a Dragon*, Average [+0] Fire Breathing*, Good [+2] Archery, Average [+0] Communicate with Animals*, Good [+2] Elven Senses, Poor [-2] Being Indoors.

Grugg-Grugg the 1st Level Orc
Virtue: Honest
Vice: Arrogance/Ego
Good [+2] Orc, Poor [-2] Orc, Good [+2] Homeland: Yrisiriel Forest, Good [+2] Organisation: Mentor, Master [+6] Double Weapons Warhammers, Average [+0] Tracking, Good [+2] Hide, Good [+2] Patience, Average [+0] Arrogant, Poor [-2] Keeping Quiet.

Dendrik Blackstuff the 1st Level Human
Qualities: Good [+2] Persuasion; Good [+2] Homeland: Shining Gate, Good [+2] Organisation: Thieves Guild, Average [+0] Shadow Magic, Good [+2] Short Sword, Good [+2] Sneak, Good [+2] Traps, Good [+2] Burgling, Poor [-2] Strength.

Part B of the character generation as source for me to steal ideas from -- because I'm never going to memorise every quality from every character is to boil each character down to their virtue vice opposition and a basic schtick.  So:

Chopoopoo's (C's) Gist: Brave vs Greedy – a fire-breathing dragon/elf who protects for animals

Dendrick's (D's) Gist: Sociable vs Mercenary – rat-faced shadow mage/rogue

Grugg-Grugg's (G's) Gist: Honest vs Arrogant -- Big brawler ranger Orc

Now, to bounce those off each other and run them together in very general 'threads':

Cmaj/Dmin: Merchants are selling animals possessed by shadows who make the animals work until they die (greed/animals/shadow magic).

Dmaj/Gmin: Lawgivers trying to closedown Thieves Guild.  Lots of orcs work as hired-muscle for the guild so the lawgivers are rounding up the usual suspects by arresting lots of orcs (thieves guild/mercenary/orcs).

Gmaj/Cmin: the local orc farmers are being threated – their animals are being stolen or killed (orcs/tracking/animals).

Not that inspired, but hopefully enough to go forward with...
Ian Charvill

Ian Charvill

[Using the notes above, I produced a series of formal notes for tonight, which follow in their entirity.  The freestyle qualities are making it very easy and quick to write up NPCs.  On the downside, I'm having trouble seeing how hard or easy encounters will be.  It's hard to see how numbers and levels of qualities are going to interract.  Only experience will tell...  Talking of time, prep for this session - not counting character generation - has been an hour and a half, with about quarter of an hour of that being posting these here.  So way over target, hopefully the follow-up sessions will be quicker]

Session One
Adventure Threads

Jana/Grant (Cmaj/Dmin)
Mauve, the Red Wight, leader of the Argent League of Merchants and Traders has fallen into a scheme with Muria of the Thieves Guild to steal pigs and then possess them with shadow spirits in order to drive them as work animals with no need of food and water until they die.  It is a lucrative trade.
(Greed/Animals/Shadow Magic)

Grant/Rheece (Dmaj/Gmin)
The Shining Order of Retribution – Shining Gates clockwork coppers – are trying to harry the Theives Guild.  Orcs are hired by the guild as muscle and so the Order are rounding up Orcs wholesale (arrest the usual suspects...)
(Thieves Guild/Mercenary/Orcs).

Rheece/Jana (Gmaj/Cmin)
The local orc hamlet (v.poor) of Pig-Pig are threatened with starvation: their pigs are all being stolen by Goblins.

Closing the circle: the Goblin Bandits are selling the pigs to Mauve for shadow possession.


Describe Shining Gate, focussing in on the locations of the three characters – go round the table left to right.

Shining Gate is a city in a ravine, at each end is a gate: outwards Shining Gate, inwards Shadow Gate.  The streets are narrow and winding and dimly lit except at noon.  Underneath the city is Stink City, a networks of tunnels, sewers and caves; outside the gates are small shanty towns and hamlets.

Encounters Phase One

Grant – Dendrick
The Guild Master Norvegicus sends Dendrick to sort out a dispute between Muria and three Orcs.  The Orcs claim Muria didn't pay them for bodyguard type work that they did.  Muria says she paid them but they drank their pay and had a blackout and now can't remember being paid.

Muria: Good [+2] Sneaky, Good [+2] Guild Member, Poor [-2] Honesty
Three Orcs: Good [+2] Family Men, Good [+2] Honesty, Poor [-2] Talking things over

So pretty evenly matched and we'll see how Dedrick tips the balance...

Jana – Chopoopoo
Chopoopoo comes across a pig acting weirdly in the street.  It has been possessed (badly) by the shadow of a young goblin...

Snitch (Goblin Shadow): Good [+2] Look Pathetic, Good [+2] Run Away, Poor [-2] Possess Animals
Pig: Good [+2] Rampage, Good [+2] Eat Anything, Poor [-2] Stay Away from Dirt

Rheece – Grugg-Grugg
Grugg-Grugg is visiting relatives in the Orc shanty hamlet of Pig-Pig.  While he is there, goblins try and rustle some pigs from the coral...

Goblins: Good [+2] There's a bunch of us, Good [+2] We've got sticks, Poor [-2] Courage

Encounters Phase 2

Shadow Stampede (Jana/Grant):

In a winding alley in Shining Gate, at dusk: There is a stampede of pig shadows as the dead pigs from the day escape thanks to a great spirit boar.  There is some incidental danger from being caught in the stampede.

Pig Stampede (Hazard): Excellent [+4] Cause Fear
Great Boar Spirit: Excellent [+4] Control Pigs*, Good [+2] Cause Fear, Good [+2] Shadow Gore*, Poor [-2] Talk to Humans

Bribary & Corruption – Part One (Rheece/Jana)

An approach is made by Muria – she is offering gold for the character to help steal pigs from the orcs for delivery to the Argent League of Merchants and Traders.

Muria: Excellent [+4] Big Bag of Gold, Good [+2] Sneaky, Good [+2] Guild Member, Poor [-2] Honesty

Bribary & Corruption – Part Two (Grant/Rheece)

Ferrus of the Flywheel Squad of the Shining Order of Retribution is recruiting talented people to help capture the orc heavies that the thieves guild habitually employ. 

Ferrus – Clockwork Detective: Excellent [+4] Shouting, Excellent [+4] Methodical, Good [+2] Organisation: Shining Order of Retribution, Good [+2] Call for Backup, Poor [-2] Empathy
Ian Charvill


Thanks for giving us this window into your prep.  I hope you can give us an after action report once the rubber has met the road.

Ian Charvill

So we played on Sunday night for about an hour to an hour and a half, covering five or six scenes.  The first three went quite quickly, then there was a wandery, like scene and a half and then an improvised sixth scene that bought things together.

We start out by deciding if the characters all know each other – it goes to a vote of two no to one yes.  So the characters don't know each other and we go to our first three scenes.

First up, we went outside the city.  Grugg Grugg is visiting his grandfather Grigg Grigg headman of the hamlet, living in the only brick building in town (all latter details offered by Rheece periodically throughout the session and built in without much issue).  The goblins turn up and a fairly swift and decisive victory ensues.

Cut to the undercity.  Grant starts of favouring his guild mate as a default stance, weighing in on her behalf.  I sequenced it as a three way conflict, with Muria and the Orcs 'fighting' each other and Dendrick weighing in on whichever side he favoured.  Which turned out to switch part way though against Muria and ended up with Dendrick demanding half-payment to the Orcs, which Muria didn't take well to.

Jana asks if its time for her background scene, which is was and we play through her scene, which falls a little flat.  I take ownership of that: looking at it, it's not intuitively clear what's happening or what needs to be done to solve it.  How it plays out is Chopoopoo talking to the pig and then using her fire breathing to make light to drive the shadow spirit away.

During the scene, Chopoopoo takes damage to her Homeland: Tek Wei, meaning that needs to come back as a plot twist later on.  Rheece complains at this point that the other two characters only were in danger of temporary damage, while he was in danger of permanent damage (the two levels of damage in the system – although as Jana pointed out the latter isn't permanent it just heals more slowly).  So we had a quick discussion about other approaches he could have taken using his character's other qualities.

After the shadow is gone, the pig does some exposition about being worked to death and that it was stolen from Pig-Pig.  Still as a dragon she carries the pig back to the hamlet and Chopoopoo and Grigg-Grigg meat and fall in together without any to do.  Incidentally, the rescued pig gets eaten that night – Jana likes pigs, but she like bacon too so she didn't really mind this.

Not being quite sure what to do for Grant, we follow up with a scene for Rheece and Jana.  They opt to track the goblins.  We use the only task roll of the session to track the goblin thieves.  The difficulty level made it something of a gimme (needing a total of five plus on two dice) but I felt after the earlier conversation it was useful to validate Rheece's non-fighting qualities.

We move from the tracking roll into the shadow pig stampede scene.  Both characters take damage straight away from this – both taking damage to their homelands, which worried me in terms of that becoming the default.  I think it's going to be useful if the resulting plot twists are strong, to create a feedback mechanism.  The shadow pigs are dismissed quickly with a repeat of the dragon's breath trick.  Then the boar appears.

We had a problematic sequence then, as actions became very moment to moment without any great driver to it.  Rheece wanted to attack it, Jana wanted to talk to it.  The big boar itself went into Basil Exposition mode, telling them these were poor pig souls, worked to death in the nearby factory, and causing a few boxes of guilt damage.  Rheece tried big brother his way into his little sister helping to kill the boar, which she was initially swayed by but we took a brief time out to establish what she herself wanted – which was to talk to the boar rather than kill it.  So we had fighting damage and talking damage going backwards and forwards.  Then I realised that having spilled its guts, I didn't have anything further for the big boar to do and turning it into a fight would have invalidated what Jana was trying to do – so on it's turn the boar left and we cut to Grant.

Grant had made a big deal about Guild loyalty and I kind of wanted to get the characters into the same sphere, if not actually all face to face.  I had Muria approach him and ask him to take money to Grigg-Grigg, the head man of Pig-Pig and Grugg-Grugg's grandfather (in order to make amends for his earlier betrayal).  He agreed to this without any resistance and then describes himself making his circumspect way to Pig-Pig.  I told him that, being circumspect he comes upon the situation and realised this: that Muria has put him in the middle of a police raid on the orcs.  He hides the money beneath a tree root and shadow magic/stealths his way down to the village – badly.  He ends up dazzled in the headlights of the flywheel squad.

Captain Ferrus announces he is here to arrest all you 'orc scum'.  Rheece is somewhat incensed by the racism and spends a fortune point to have him and Chopoopoo arrive on the scene.  A general fracas occurs.  Rheece enjoys using his twin-warhammer shtick to smash in the mechanicals.  Jana has her elf in dragon form do strafing fire breath attacks.  Grant tries to use Shadow Magic to darken the headlights of the police.  He fails repeatedly – Grant has some of the worst luck with dice in the history of humankind as an ongoing thing, which is great if your playing him at DnD minis, but during a sequence in an rpg it left his character with little to do.

[Inter alia – it was at this point that Vicky – Grant's wife who was at the time playing on the Wii with my wife down the other end of the lounge-diner – asked what was going on and Jana said killing the racist robot policemen.  Vicky said she shouldn't tell people that at school if they asked what she did last night]

Grant's character takes damage during this – it goes onto his Traps quality, which fills me with a warm glow.  The mechanicals don't last long under the triple onslaught.  Things round out with Dendrick retrieving the money and indicating via secret note that he's giving half of it to the village.  He also asks for a bed for the night, leaving all three characters in the village.  I gave fortune point awards to Rheece and Jana for stepping into a conflict that they didn't need to.

Overall Grant seems to have hooked onto Guild loyalty as a thing.  Rheece seems to find the whole Orc identity and social ties interesting, and had a strong reaction to the racism issue.  Jana doesn't seem to have grabbed onto anything yet, but I need to set up two homeland plot twists for next session, and I'll try to make them diverse and see  what happens there.  I need to reread the conflict rules – some of the multi-way conflicts seemed confused – it may be the rules or it may be me not doing enough to establish clear goals at the start.  Also, I might try to give out more fortune points, to get a better idea of what the players will spend them for if there are no scarcity issues to hold them back (players start with one each).
Ian Charvill