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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 81 - most online ever: 565 (October 17, 2020, 02:08:06 PM)
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Author Topic: One from The Vault  (Read 2606 times)
hardcoremoose
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« on: May 13, 2002, 08:15:20 PM »

Hey everyone,

Well, I wrapped up a five session arc of The Whispering Vault tonight, and until now I've been reticent to say much.  I'd like to say there wasn't much to write about, but I guess that would be a lie.

There's the usual stuff - you know, the actual story content.  In this case it was all about a Stalker in the PCs' Circle who made the leap to Aesthetic, and then promptly forced his way into the real world, tagging him as an Unbidden.  The PCs hunted him down and consigned him to The Vault, where he proceeded to use the very intimate knowledge he possessed of them to antagonize them from its walls.  That's actually just a very small part of the game, as his real plan was simply to get revenge on a mortal who used to be an Unbidden, but you don't need to know all that.

Now for the interesting stuff.

I learned a lot while running this game.  A lot.  People say this narrativist stuff is easy, but it's not.  I made huge leaps forward, and I'm still not sure the game I ran was particularly narrativist.

I learned the importance of a supporting cast, and how presentation is every thing.  I didn't say I was good at it - not yet, anyway - but I finally started to hit a stride about the third session, after seeing the first two fall very flat.  I'm seeing now that one or two major NPCs is not enough to effectively protagonize anyone - you need many, many NPCs, with goals and needs and agendas in motion.  Multiple villains are good, but even more important are foils and allies for the players to riff off of.  Depicting a large cast of characters is tough, but it's a vital skill that until now I hadn't paid much attention to (even after seeing it done well by others in my group).

Furthermore, The Whispering Vault makes that task doubly as daunting.  Being episodic in nature, with characters traveling to different times and places every adventure, the game itself is fairly disjointed, and it's difficult (but not impossible) to build a supporting cast of recurring characters.  I wanted to showcase The Vault's design by having every session essentially be a new Hunt, in a new time and place.  I assumed I could build a supporting cast out of the supernatural characters they would encounter - Unbidden, Shadows, and other Stalkers.  But these characters lacked depth, and it was the mortals - weak and puny as they were - that emerged as being the most interesting.  It was during the third session - which, coincidentally, is when the game took a turn for the better - that I abandoned my original plan of playing several different Hunts, and instead focused the remaining sessions on a single one (with a smaller Hunt on the side that really only involved one of the players).  This is the proper way to run the game in my opinion, and anyone planning to play The Vault should consider running single Hunts over multiple sessions.

My scene framing got better.  Jump starting the scene is important, and often difficult, but just as important is knowing when to call it, so that it ends on an appropriately dramatic note.  

The big thing I learned was how non-narrativist the game actually is.  That may be a fairly controversial statement; look back on a few my old posts and you'll see me proclaiming it to be one of the best such games around.  That was me basing my opinions on old play examples, and after playing it again and seeing it through Forge-colored eyes, I've been forced to change my tune.

It's not the rigid play structure that bothers me; although we minimalized that element after the first session, I don't think that made it less narrativist.  In fact, I still love the play structure, and wish more games would adopt it.

It's little things, like the way Forbiddance works.  The rulebook tells the players to keep their interaction with mortals to a minimum, lest they invoke this nasty punishment.  Yet it's the mortals that hold the players interest, and that beg to engaged.  I did not use the Forbiddance once during any of the five sessions.

And the combat system, with its "roll initiative, roll to hit, roll damage" process.  Back in the day, The Vault's explicit authorial power was a big eye-opened for me - it was the first time I ever saw something like that, and it was exactly what I was looking for at the time.  It still has that, but it's slow, clunky combat seems like an exercise in redundant die-rolling, and it just drags everything to a screeching halt.

In the end, we drifted this game big time.  Maybe too much - I gave the players carte blanche with experience points and used a lot of drama resolution instead of fortune - but it was the only way to get to where we wanted to be.

Ultimately, though, I can say the game was moderately successful.  It ended on a very nice note, precipitated by what appeared to be a major sacrifice on the part of Matt Gwinn's character, only to be revealed as no sacrifice at all.  Very cool stuff.

And I emerge from the exhausting, occasionally troubling, five-sessions with a better understanding of what to do next time, and what kind of game I want to do it with.

Take care,
Scott
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