That was much better.
After the difficult second session, my ass was well and truly on the line for session three. I've already documented some of the pressures that are associated with this particular campaign and the reasons why I have a vested interest in making it work.
I decided beforehand to throw the doors open to fate a little. The crew of the Khanjar were in transit from the Fringe worlds to the Core and I knew that I wanted to somehow simulate that this wasn't a *blink* transition - so I wanted to do the first half of the session as 'character time'. To give the players ownership of this, I let them state their own scenes via the medium developed in Primetime Adventures (remember, one of the games that we 'couldn't handle'). Well, one player added some in mid-week and another added them on the day, so I had something to work with.
I also planned the rest of the session out using the same method of scene-conflict-actors etc. This allowed me to play around beforehand (and indeed, during) with the sequences of the game and alter the flow of the session when needed. It was good. I also took one of the players advice about pacing and pushing the game on - and not getting bogged down in the minutae of the setting or the technology.
The crew went through a number of scenes whilst in transit and arrived at Caliphate Prime where Amarr is greeted like a hero. Everyone settles in, Amarr is told to take his responsibilities more seriously, the ship is upgraded, Marcus reports to his spy masters, Amarr gains a Mamluk bodyguard and then at a banquet, said bodyguard, Marcus and Talia stop an assassin who is massacring the royalty. However the assassin is found with Imperial equipment and Marcus is arrested.
That sounds easy? It was - very very very easy. It flowed, it wasn't forced, the characters were all in situations where they could speak and interact and moreover I hit GMing GOLD
I got one of the players to physically double-take when the assassin struck.
To me, having a player so engrossed in what is happening that they physically react to a shock change of pace means that I really REALLY have their attention and their minds. Thats GMing GOLD in my book.
As a result, I think my new trimmed lifestyle will allow me to lavish prep time like this on every game and that will be a good thing. The old seat-of-the-pants style of GMing is all well and good, but eventually it all comes stuck and you do get those pregnant pauses when your mind is racing as you try to weave a plot and it all goes tits up. This way, that was never an issue. Even the odd bit that I was having to improvise was just setting flavour and verbalising the Vision Thing about the architecture of the palace etc. The actual plot was pretty much there in front of me, ready to be referenced. Colour me converted.
And this can only be a good thing for the players, as the model that I introduced from PTA has been shown to work - and that means that they have a structured way of introducing their own drama to the game and harking back to that combined ownership that was such a part of our earlier efforts.
My next decision of course, will be when to pull the trigger on one of the big 'story arc' plots over and above the current settling in stuff. Indeed - working out which of the plots to do first seems to be a bigger problem, especially as my initial idea (aliens in hyperspace) isn't exactly original (Babylon 5 and indeed the entire 'Hope' series of books). That said, at the minute it is quite ambiguous so I have space and time (no pun intended)
Oh, and the players are talking about the game to me as well - thats a really good sign!