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lab: EPICS, prepping the first session

Started by Paul Czege, September 24, 2003, 03:03:44 PM

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Paul Czege

So, if you've been following the other">"lab: EPICS" thread, you know my plan for the first scenes of the game, in service to">setting-premise Narrativism, was to "cast" the sketchy player characters into roles for which they were suited, in positions within the setting where they could be significant to the resolution of the Premise.

Well, first let me say that this plan wasn't derived from the EPICS rules. The game text doesn't really provide any guidelines on how a GM might handle getting things started, other than a sort-of underlying presumption throughout the examples that the characters are members of some kind of team. And yeah, that would have been perfectly faithful to Evernight. But after all these months of fairly intense Narrativism where player characters each have their own individual storylines, I couldn't bring myself to do it.

And I think my plan for how I would handle it was very much in keeping with the spirit of the EPICS rules and the carefully restricted set of starting information about the PCs that chargen delivers. Certainly there isn't any text that directly contradicts the approach.

But I quickly found the task of prepping such a thing almost impossible. Knowing what to frame the characters into, what the player would be interested in, was exceedingly difficult with only the sketchy information I was working with. And since we were planning a multi-session game, the pressure of having so much riding on what I did in the first scene with each character was almost crippling. If I mis-cast the character, and the player failed to engage the "role," I imagined the consequence would be a train wreck of lost protagonism that we'd all be watching for the duration of the game. And if I failed with more than one character...well...ugh.

Anyway, I sought suggestions from Ron. And he offered "Dramatic Entry," ala Swashbuckler. I would provide scenes and the players would have the power to decide when and how to enter them. It was a great suggestion...very much in keeping with the decidedly Authorial spirit of EPICS, I think. I determined to present scenes as basically an ongoing narrative, that I would cut back and forth across, with players having the option of entering whichever and whenever they chose to do so. I was getting increasingly excited about the idea.

Well, Scott and I hashed it out a bit via YIM that evening and came up with the notion of me first framing "snippets" of several scenes, more scenes than there were players, and then on the second pass of activity the players would have their characters enter. But as fun as it seemed, the revised idea had its own issues. Players would be forced to enter scenes with very little information to go on. So it was difficult for me to envision how I would implement it and not have scenes devolve into non-productive characterizing. It seemed that players would struggle to integrate their characters. So I did a quick playtest with Scott via YIM, and what he did was exactly that; he entered into a vaguely confrontational conversation with an NPC. But it was purposeless. It was just a semblance of conflict, with no foundation of substance to make it interesting. And I imagined if I went ahead with the plan that players would find themselves choosing between that kind of substance-less confrontational conversation and similar substance-less combat aggression.

So the plan was further revised to where I'd present several micro-scenes that the players to choose from prior to my second pass, but instead of them determining their own entry, I would cast them into roles as I'd originally planned...basically a casting informed by the player's choice of situation.

My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans

Paul Czege

Now, the implementation. With four players, I determined to provide six starting scenes. The goal was to allow the players to start defining their characters, but at the same time, position them relative to the question of whether Valusian society had come to over rely on institutionalized heroism. If you're familiar with Evernight, you know the big "bang" that problematizes things, as well as the details of what various significants are doing during the game's timeline. I suspect my players are reading this thread, so I'd appreciate us not getting into specifics, but I think you'll see from my prepped scene snippets that my vision for meaningful distribution of protagonists in setting-premise Narrativism has forced me to stray pretty far and wide from the plotline described in Evernight. I knew, for instance, that I wanted a character on the inside of institutionalized heroism, one on the outside of it, one in an oversight position relative to it, and one in a needy position. I also knew that I wanted some open-ended mystery and some open-ended potential romance that could be problematized by the situation.

So here are my scene snippets:
    Scene #1: The sun is barely above the horizon, and there is still dew on the ground. A knight, mounted and wearing the red armor of Solace, is beset by three unmounted orcs with spears on a grassy plateau in the hills inland of King's Port. He wheels around and delivers a punishing downward blow to the collar of an orc just behind him, and you see the blade of his broadsword shatter on impact. Cut.

    Scene #2: The micro scene: Perhaps forty-five minutes before sunrise, a young boy sits bolt upright in bed. The sheet falls away from him, and you can see that his right arm is entirely missing. His chest is bare, and you can also see that he has a lot of scars outward from the stump of his missing arm across his upper torso, and from there upward onto his throat and cheek. "Da?" he says. He pushes himself up from bed with his left arm, and moves to the doorway. "Da?" Cut.

    Scene #3: Several hours after midnight, The Lost Chambermaid, a seedy tavern outside the walls of King's Port, is still bustling. The notoriously vigilant and uncorruptable town guard of King's Port would long ago have shut this place down, were it located inside the city proper. But here, outside their scrutiny, it has thrived. The clientele of second-rate heroes, the less-than-honorable, hired killers, and thieves, mingle openly, pursue their various schemes, and nurse their gambling, alcohol, and drug addictions. At a small table against the far wall, a dirty, dark-skinned man dressed in black passes a small box forward across the table: "These are 2000 each." Cut.

    Scene #4: It is mid-morning. A pretty young woman waits on a carved bench, holding a letter, and looking earnest, and nervous. You hear the sound of approaching hoofbeats. Cut

    Scene #5: Again, mid-morning. King Crassus Kaden stands in front of the throne at the head of his great hall, and points an accusing finger at a weak-chinned, short man, dressed in the clothes of a merchant, who stands petrified before him. "You, Bersi Anas have cast dishonor onto your King." He looks to the side gallery, where an older and more dignified looking merchant stands. "It was my intention that your marriage to the daughter of Walteve Baroch would put an end to the hostilities between you. Walteve Baroch is an honorable member of this court. I asked for this union from him, as you well know, and gave him my assurances. Yet this morning he has brought evidence before me of your dishonorable treatment of your tender wife, his daughter. So you have given me no choice." Cut.

    Scene #6: A figure in a red wool cloak, trimmed in dark brown suede, dismounts a horse in the pouring rain in front of a small farm house. The hero steps onto the wooden porch and knocks on the front door. After a brief moment, it is answered by a teenage boy, and a medium-sized farm dog. "We hear you have found...a creature." Cut.[/list:u]In my notes, the plotlines all have names, and little thematic guidelines to help me with improvising what happens during play. Since the game is ongoing, and things haven't played themselves out yet, I won't reveal them all. But the first one is called "A Knight Beset."

My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans