Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Heretics and a Night of Hectic Preperation!

You ever have those weeks when for days you had plenty of time on your hands, and plan to take your time on a project (since you have it and all), then suddenly life catches up and the time you thought you had suddenly meets a rather unpleasant and unexpected end? Well that has been my last few days and now I find that I have an entire act and a half of the Eye for an Eye scenario to prepare in less than 3 hours!

So the point of this post is to go through how I  prepared for this scenario that I didn’t write myself and why they feel like they are twice as hard to run at the best of times. So let us begin at the beginning as it were.

As I said in an earlier post I am going to be running the 3rd edition of WHFRP for the first time on Wednesday night with a group of players with little to no experience with the Old World as a setting and absolutely no experience with the game mechanics. So for this first go out my task has been two fold; learn the rules solidly, and by that I mean making sure I can teach 4 other players accurately, as well as learn the adventure An Eye for an Eye from the Tome of Adventure. After finding players and setting a date, I immediately went about a frantic reading of the Rulebook and Tome of Adventure cover to cover thoroughly. I spent a few hours rolling dice and working on quickly reading the results and what the dice mean, e.g. an action that succeeds mainly on characteristic dice means that a PC's characteristics made the difference, or success on an expertise die would point to skill and training. From there I have spent some time trying to get passable at narrating the action using evocative language (Valdrid's sword slices the goblin just won’t do for a game whose mechanic has such huge potential, more like as the goblin attempts to lash out with another sloppy blow, Valdrid skillfully parries and in one fluid motion his sword slides through leather and sinew leaving a terrible gash across the creatures throat. The idea of really being able to determine exactly how an action occurred and the factors accounting for success or failure is really the crowning achievement of WHFRP 3rd Edition in my opinion at least and I want to be darn sure I am able to show that to my players tomorrow.

Once I got the rules down and any questions or clarity issues I had cleared up (the GM's forum at Fantasy Flight Games was really useful for this), I set about reading through An Eye for an Eye and determining what rules are introduced in the adventure, what rules I needed to explain before the session began, and what rules I didn’t need to introduce at all, such as magick and advancement, in the first session. What I have decided to go over with them before the session is really the core mechanic, the party sheet (I am giving them a choice between 4 different sheets to let them decide the kind of party they feel fits their characters best), fortune points, characteristics, a quick over view of action cards, and basic and advanced skills. Combat, insanity, wounds, etc. are all introduced fairly well in the scenario itself and I will wait until the appropriate times to go into detail on those things.

After figuring out how, when, and what rules I need to explain in the first session I asked each of them to choose a career simply based on the descriptions on the cards (exempting magick-users) and to give me a rough personality of the character they'd like to play. At this point I gave them a very basic overview of what they were looking at but didn’t get into any real mechanical details. After I had the careers they wanted to play and the general personalities I went about penning the back stories posted earlier this week. I wanted to give each character a firm footing in the setting and some strong details for the players to work with, while leaving many details, like appearance, age, mannerisms, etc. for each player to decide themselves. Along with their back stories I sent them each a number of questions to answer (taken from the proverbial 10 questions that has been used by WHFRP GM's since the game was first published in 1986) I wrote out a few things to think about when considering each question but left the decisions for them to make. I've posted the questions I sent to the player running Odwin below as an example

Questions to answer for yourself:
1) How religious are you? Odwin would likely have Sigmar as his patron deity but does he blame the gods for the way things have gone or does he hold to the very common notion among folks of the Empire that the gods are responsible for everything and nothing is left to coincidence?
2) Who do are you loyal to? Burgrin is likely a character that Odwin has grown at least some sense of loyalty towards but in broader terms what concepts is this character loyal to? What makes him put it all on the line?
3) Who/what do you love/hate? Does Odwin hold feelings for Bella, Vigo’s widow perhaps or is the guilt too much for him to even think about her these days? You might hold seeded hatred for the creatures that killed him or perhaps you have grown distrustful of the aristocracy and their motives from you experiences with the roadwardens. Only thing to keep in mind on this one is Odwin’s father’s last words “It’s a rum do this lot of ours, but never give up boy, fight the good ol’ fight for your ol’ da, it’s the men like us who make this world of ours a bit brighter…”

With my player's and their characters fleshed out a bit I went through and did the character creation process for each of them trying to choose talents, skills, action cards, etc. that would fit well with the background of the character and at the same time would be genuinely useful during the game. For example the two reputation talents Adel possesses are Stiff Upper Lip, and Outgoing, while her action cards are mostly social with the exception of possessing Nimble Strike.

Now that everything was in place the next step is to really get this gosh darn adventure under my belt. When tackling a pre written adventure that’s not crap I try my best to give the author the respect due and run it as true to the story written as I can while at the same time making it run as smoothly as an adventure I had cooked up myself... that’s the where things get tricky. Now with an adventure you write yourself you know it pretty well from the get go, its written in a way you really understand since after all you wrote and designed it, but in the case of an adventure like An Eye for an Eye where things get kind of complex due to its non-linear nature as a GM you really need to have this thing down solidly or else you run the risk of making a mess of it at the gaming table. Since its also my first time with the system I needed to know it better twice as well since I will be dealing with remembering rules and seeing things play out for the first time. So I set about reading it carefully cover to cover, once a day. This in theory seems great and should be no problem really... until life strikes and its tonight and I have gotten 3 readings, and that’s being kind, in the last few days. I have the core down but then I remembered that I hadn’t dealt at all with the aspects that aren’t clearly defined by the author.

Normally I will make a single page of notes for each act or set of major encounters, that give me a thought out plan of how I want to describe things, people, etc. and for this adventure where there are so many NPC's to consider (whose descriptions don’t really fall where I want them to in the text) I wanted to have flash cards for each ready and prepped as well as a map of Grunewald Lodge prepped to track where everyone is at a given time (using tracking tokens). As I sit here right now, those things are simply in my head and not done at all... yet. Tonight will be a long late night, I want to get the map and NPC cards written up, put some notes on the rules with relevant encounters, do some last minute touch ups on the gaming space, and maybe sleep and have dinner... anyway wish me luck, and Ill post how things turn out (there's a chance there might even be a video with my player's general reactions to the session.... I’m not sure how I feel about that yet. Anyway got to get this darn session ready!

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