Monday, March 13, 2006

P&P#4: The End of the Beginning

The reconvened fourth session of Pulsars and Privateers has happened and it was .... OK. It ran a little short and it started a little jittery but it pressed all of the developmental buttons that I had mapped out for the start of the campaign - basically that by the fourth 'episode' we would have turned the blank templates of 'the captain','the mysterious monk','the engineer' and 'the pilot' into actual characters with backgrounds.

So now we have Captain Agha Amarr Salee, ever-so-slightly estranged from the Caliphate Royal Family and a coerced associate of a peaceful rebellion on his homeworld. Marcus D'Silver, a former Imperial Officer with connections to the Imperial espionage whose status is questionable. Talia Decados - a mysterious lethal mystic with a past wrapped in the perversity of the Decados Guild House. Zeb Thaddeus, experimental cyberpilot living with the electronic imprint of his girlfriend Alisse.

Slowly, character relationships are growing - specifically between Talia and the other members of the crew. And story seeds are being sown for future endeavours - the deceit of the Decados, the military expansion of the Confed, the rebellion on Caliphate Homeworld. All nicely coming together.

So why was the session just ... 'ok'

1. I think I am coming to the conclusion that the PTA method of scene setting is good, but it's an all or nothing deal. It so completely envelopes the process that there is a stark and sometimes unpleasant jarring when you switch from one type to another. Maybe thats not it - maybe it's because the scenes HAVE to be player authored and not GM spawned? Where does the line between the players being protaganists and the dictates of the storyline lie? It all revolves around that age old roleplaying question 'what do you do?'

In this game we had two such instances. The first was with Amarr, who was left alone, seeking within his own skills to somehow help Marcus. 'What do you do?' - you go and see your rather important mother and try (fail) to persuade her that Marcus is innocent. Personally, I thought this scene worked really well in that it juxtaposed nicely with some of the later scenes. In the wide world of the Caliphate, the Agha is a figure of authority and grandeur, but in the palace he is still just that annoying yet loveable young lad who will one day grow up.

The second scene was less successful and gels nicely with the other two problems of the session. Marcus is condemned to (almost certain) death - what do you do? You rescue him. How do you do it? here's the problem. Normally we have the cringe worthy, toe curler of middle aged white men trying to think like spies or knights - I considered that middle aged white men trying to emulate a SF rescue would have been a little easier. After all you have the Morpheus rescue from The Matrix and virtually every scene in any Star Wars film as inspiration. And yet... it just wasn't so. It stuttered and spluttered and generally didn't seem to be going anywhere until Amarr used his influence to acquire the Grand MacGuffin (the stealth belts) and do an ingenious rescue that way.

In a game where virtually everything is scripted, how do the players retain ownership of their game? An interesting challenge...

2. A phobia of action: Do we, hell, do I have a phobia of action? In the perfect minds eye of the GM I would have loved to have seen an armed assault on the Caliphate Secret Service base, Talia and El-Hassan back to back storming the front door and emulating some great gun-fight scenes from cinema. That never happened and what we were moments away from was the sort of convoluted rescue scene that would have put the 'poisoned tuna' scene in Shadowrun to shame. When the imperative is Action! Action! Action! sometimes the game can slip away into Caution! Caution! Caution! Maybe I need to have a badge on saying 'I am not a vindictive GM' to remind them that I am not going to cut their characters down in a rain of plasma fire and that the SF world 'reality' is firmly in place. Mooks never hit anyone and always go down with one hit/punch. Sometimes direct assault works. Of course shooting the force field generator destroys the field...etc etc. I think we got this in the final scene when the Khanjar was the only ship with power in orbit and it destroyed the rebellion fighter platform - the action came in the statements from the players and the way that Zeb used the narrative (he provided) from his past to mirror the actions in the present.

3. NPCs ... with learner wheels still on: I have never been a great advocate of NPCs as party members. They are such obvious GM-voices and fallbacks that I have always looked elsewhere. However in P&P I needed at least one NPC to be the 'crew on the ship' rather than having a PC stay up with it when they landed. Tanner, that NPC, is fine and as a rather reliable yet background player he does the job well. No doubt Tanner's story will come out as well, but now he is just the man that screens the Captain and shouts 'Missles Locked!' when it is dramatically appropriate.

I added a second NPC because ... well, because it felt right, as a sign of Amarr's increased importance - and because the role of the bodyguard is one that works oh so well in the HH books. So we have El-Hassan, a female (yet seemingly asexual) professional warrior who has pledged her life to the command and safety of the Agha. In terms of roles within the ship this puts her on a collision course with Talia - but as Talia's player has stated that he wanted to get away from the straight 'fighter' archetype, this should work? What I need to watch out is that the NPC does not become more heroic than the PCs, that El-Hassan is not the protaganist in every situation. She has to add to the game, rather than detract from it. She must never EVER become a super-uber-safety net of doom for them.

Now, in that I have been dubbed The Iron GM by one of my players who lives at ( a great place for a players eye view of the game), I shall henceforth dub him.... The Ideas Factory. And I would like to address here something that T.I.F. suggested in his post on the game - that some of the concepts were not fully fleshed out.


Thats the operative word and I think it is what seperates the game as a game from the game as a TV Series. The game is now in a state of flux. The Agha has had his eyes opened to the world beneath his very safe and luxurious state of being. He has seen the depravity that his lifestyle creates in it's backwash. He has met, fleetingly, a man who claims to want a peaceful resolution. He has seen even more fleetingly the face of the man who would kill him and his family. He has seen what they can do (fighters, computer viruses, contraband equipment) and he has seen the consequences. Every single detail of that could have been laid out before the group there and then - or it could be one of the mysteries of the game forthcoming. So far, the game is rammed with these 'unanswered questions' - absolutely teeming with them actually and the more there are, the better as far as I am concerned.

Rather than a nicely paced session where the rebellion was introduced and given empathic characters and detailed reasons for what they are doing and then a baddie other faction introduced and then some grand plot of rescue hatched, I wanted it to be far more chaotic - things happening around the characters that impact on them without them having any direct input into the process. Carried along somewhat in the chaos. The rebellion wanted to show the Agha that it existed and why, but others wanted him dead and they were all set to do it...and then the chaos in space and the swift retreat of the Khanjar. All very chaotic.

Which brings me back nicely to the end of the beginning. One of the ways that I wanted the first 'session' of the campaign to end was in a feeling of chaos...that somehow the edges of society are fraying slightly and any idea of a cosy existence has been put on hold. Between the issues with the Confed, House Decados, The Caliphate and One-Eyed Elijah this will have got across. Only time will tell.


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