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{Dust Devils] Ack!! More than I can chew!

Started by Hans, March 16, 2006, 10:18:40 AM

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Hi all:

Well, I've gone and done it.  I've signed up to run Dust Devils at Gen Con.  I hope to high heaven I can get a chance to run it with some friends here first.

Anyway, here is the question:  Who here has run Dust Devils at a convention before?  If someone has, can you give me some suggestions/pointers on how best to run it? 

Here is the description of the session I gave to Kat Miller:

Title: No Rain in Galilee
Desc: Three Texas Rangers have dissappeared near the dusty and lawless border town of Galilee, Texas.  What fate has befallen them?  Will you fight for justice, or against it?

The basic idea is to come up with a sketched relationship map for the town of Galilee, and a physical map of the town and surrounding areas to guide play.  Then, have a few character outlines people could use to jump right in.

Any ideas you experienced Dust Devils GM's could provide would be greatly appreciated.

And to Matt: do you have any promo materials that you would like me to have available at the table? (Postcards, flyers, pencils, who knows?)

* Want to know what your fair share of paying to feed the hungry is?
* Want to know what games I like?

Eero Tuovinen

Well, I have done a bit of DD-in-conventions. Most remarkably, I have a scenario I've ran with roughly 150 people so far, including newbies and veterans. If you didn't have a scenario in mind, I'd offer mine.

Some basic pointers:
- DD does anything from fifteen minutes to four hours if you let it; you can't so much decide the length beforehand, but you can prep enough material to ensure you don't run short. Be prepared to simply stop the game and thank the players if the session runs to overtime.
- The GM job is to prepare NPCs and the physical surroundings. The game works best if you hold no preconceptions whatsoever about the actual contents of play.
- The major way of differentiating premade PCs is different Devil scores. Make sure you have all three represented, and that the score accurately reflects the relevance of the Devil towards the scenario: if you can't see the relevance of the Devil, give it a 1, if you can immediately see how you'd play it, give it a 2, and if you've obviously crafted the scenario with the Devil in mind, give it a 3. When playing, make sure the players get roughly the Devil scores / characters they want, corresponding with their activity level.
- When playing, strive immediately for a "poker-night" rhythm of play, by which I mean an energetic jump at follow-up conflicts. When one hand is done, ideally everybody sees some obvious directions to go from there. The game works best if every "free-narration" phase is an immediate lead to further conflict, instead of aimless wandering. Keep this in mind in prep and in play; if players are not moving with conflict in mind, you have to provide immediate, gritty opposition to their values.
- Some of these are general principles for running DD, like this one: as a GM, lose any and all internal filters on what's drama and what's not. Your job is only to provide appropriate adversity, and only that.
- When creating the relationship map, you don't so much make a map than create directions for the NPCs and PCs to collide. An active relationship map in DD is one with NPCs on collision course. Where is somebody moving? Check their Devils to see.
- If you're planning to run the scenario several times, it's worthwhile to craft some opening questions and frames for getting the players into the scenario. For instance, in my scenario, I always ask the player of the mysterious gunfighter whether he's with the cons or the sheriff. And I ask the robbers which one is the boss. And I ask the cavalry lieutenant whether he's cooperating with the local sheriff. I have a list of these questions, so every player gets to participate in the "set-up" of the scenario.
- When designing the scenario, start by deciding whether you're doing "one-tangle" or "multi-tangle", by which I mean, whether you're going to have several plot lines, or just one. One plot line can carry one session, but there's a danger of playing it through in just an hour if the players are aggressive and careless. Several plot lines will all but ensure that you'll be cutting short at some point. The way to do multi-tangle in a convention is to make your individual plots so small and interconnected that they can be dealt with in succession. For example, the issues of the cowboy looking for his lost love and the gambler desperate for one last stake are not necessarily connected in any way, but you won't lose coherence if they're individually small enough.

Some scenario advice:
- Design your scenario for a widely varying number of players, and give a wide variety of character choices. It's easy in Dust Devils, and players like variety. I myself tend to distribute all of my ready-made characters randomly to players, who get to choose the one they like. I don't care, because my scenario is built to work with all combinations. My preferred range of players is 2, or 3-10. Those two are different, but if I'm designing for more than 2 players, I might as well include characters for ten while I'm at it.
- Make the three disappeared rangers characters; not with the mind of them all being run as PCs, but so that there's different options. And it's a fun place to start the game, from the bottom of a snake-pit or wherever such a ranger might be. Or perhaps one is dead, the other two know it, but they're separated in some godforsaken place in mortal danger. That's the kind of situation where it's always fun to come back from.
- Create a character who wants the rangers to stay disappeared, with good reason; create another who wants them found. Have one who's prosperity depends on the fate of the rangers, and one who's meddling out of idealism. Prepare to play these as NPCs, should there be few players.

Those are some random thoughts on the matter. Perhaps if you have more exact questions I can be of more concrete assistance.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


Quote from: Eero Tuovinen on March 16, 2006, 12:26:41 PM
Those are some random thoughts on the matter. Perhaps if you have more exact questions I can be of more concrete assistance.

If these are what you call "random" thoughts, your "well ordered and concisely presented" thoughts must truly be a wonder to behold.  Thanks Eero!  This is EXACTLY the kind of advice I was hoping for.  I would love to see your scenario you have used in the past, if you could share it.  You can PM me about that, if you would prefer.
* Want to know what your fair share of paying to feed the hungry is?
* Want to know what games I like?

Eero Tuovinen

Those really are random thoughts, I recommend not trusting them blindly; I'm a tad busy with projects, and too tired to compile a good general treatise on running Dust Devils.

That said, my scenario notes are in Finnish, so I'll just give you the outline without statistics.

The robbery of Sandy Gulch
There's gold in Sandy Gulch. Like, huge piles of it. You see, it's the Mexican war and the governor of Kalifornia just bought of the cavalry with THREE CHESTS of Spanish doubloons (yeah, yeah, completely ahistorical, blah blah). They're on their way to the east with a regiment of cavalry. Unfortunately the cavalry and the gold got stuck in Sandy Gulch, a small town in the middle of nowhere, as the rains turned the roads into impassable mud. The tensions have been on the rise as the cavalry turned the small town upside down. The gold's in the bank vaults of the Sandy Gulch bank, the storms are subsiding, but everybody knows one thing: the rumour of gold is sure to draw in the bloodthirstiest, nastiest, most cunning criminals and desperados this side of Mississippi!

The scenario is for 3-10 players (with less I use my trusty gunfight duel scenario). First I deal the players some random characters and tell them to trade with others if they don't like theirs. Then, while they deliberate, I read (paraphrase, actually) the above backgrounds to them. My instructions on choosing characters is that this is a short scenario and the character doesn't really matter, just pick one with a nice description.

(I should note that this is specifically a 15min. demo scenario, extensible to a full session if necessary.)

The cast:

The sheriff - how his pride takes being bossed around by the cavalry? - inconsequential Devil (about some cattle barons, specifically; doesn't usually come up)
The cavalry lieutenant - does he work with the local people, or use his forces and authority? - The gold is his Devil
The mysterious gunfighter - is he with the robbers or in the town? - loneliness is his Devil
The semi-innocent girl - has she asked anybody for help? - saving her brother is her Devil

The outlaws - Do they have a plan? Who's the leader? How will the loot be divided?
The bloodthirsty outlaw - greed is his Devil
The cunning outlaw - honest life is his Devil
The deserter - military is his Devil
The old spinster - revenge is her Devil
The mexican - racism is his Devil

I start the actual scenario by telling how the outlaws are outside the town camping and planning. I ask some of the above questions from the players, depending on who's in the game and who's not. There's a couple of other questions, too (like whether the deserter knows that his sister's in the town), but those are the main ones for brevity's sake. The idea is to let the players take a hand in setting the exact parameters of the game, to acclimatize them to directing play in free narration.

After that, it's all directed towards another conflict. I should mention that I use somewhat tuned chip rules, which tend to support my preferred play style better. But the basics work the same anyway. (Note that if there's few players and nobody plays either the sheriff or the lieutenant, I play one of those as NPC; otherwise there's no NPCs at all.) Here's my typical conflict progression:

First conflict: "OK, you ride to town <or some variant>. What are your goals?" This is where I explain the concept of claiming goals in conflict, and find out who wants in on the first conflict. Usually everybody does, one way or another, so it's a giant conflict. Typical goals are "getting the gold", "protecting the gold", "getting some gold", "getting whatever's dropped in the gunfight", "shooting the outlaws", "betraying the outlaws" and the like. I explain how choosing abilities works and how trading cards with skills works.

Second conflict: Could be anything, really. Usually some variant of chase, stuck-in gunfight, prison break or something along those lines. Could be only two players. Here I explain Traits and folding with chips.

Third conflict: Where I stop if it's a short demo. I explain the Devil and the main uses of the chips. Usually the third conflict is one where the Devils are relevant, but if there's time, I might bide my time and wait for the fourth one, if that's even more appropriate.

Note that I explain the rules "through play" because this is, indeed, planned for quick demos. Practice has proved that it can be played longer if you're willing to run with what the players are planning. I suggest that this is the best way to explain the game whether it's a short or a long game; as long as you're making the characters instead of the players, this is the way to go.

Also note that while the above looks simple, simplistic even, it has more depth than it looks. Some of the results I've gotten from play:
- The mysterious gunfighter is actually working for the government.
- The brother/sister pair runs off with the gold; the bloodthirsty outlaw hunts them for years; the brother becomes a priest.
- The cunning outlaw gets the gold, grows old and bitter and rich, gets done in by the daughter of the bloodthirsty one.
- The lieutenant hides the gold in an old mineshaft outside town with the aid of the sheriff; nobody is left alive who knows the location.
- The old spinster marries the sheriff; the two gun down the corrupt lieutenant.
- Everything happens within a span of five minutes and leaves the town in ruins; John Woo plays the gunfighter.
- The mexican and the girl fall in love; the sheriff, in murderous jealousy, kills the mexican.
The simple starting point can go on to span several generations of entwined human destinies, if you have the time and the inclination. The "gold of Sandy Gulch" makes for a fine starting point in this regard, as somebody has it, and everybody wants it...


Which reminds me, actually, of a point: if you're doing a full three or four hour game, you could well include chargen. It can be done in fifteen minutes, and most characters can be stuck into a suitably superficial scenario by inserting a relevant NPC or two. Nowadays I don't actually prepare for Dust Devils at all; I just look at the characters and throw something roughly suitable off the top of my hat. It's that kind of easy game to run.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.