Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dust in my Brain

Man, I am rusty. We had session zero of our cold war supers-as-nukes game (which needs a name) last night, and while it went well, that is mostly a testimony to the quality of my players rather than any particular art on my part. As noted previously we'd done three phases of chargen last time, and we managed to do another phase by mail (explaining why it snowed in the Sahara in February of 1979) but we didn't have time for the fifth, so this session was phase five. For me, that meant making sure that it was self contained enough to wrap up in one session, and that it hit enough character points for everyone to have some ideas for what aspects to pick up. At the same time we were trying out a new, simplified version of Fate and playing in a genre that I don't have an instinctive grasp of. And I cannot remember the last game I've run that wasn't either 4e or a one-shot focused on testing out a new game system.[1]

So, all in all, an interesting start.

On the rules side, I made one last minute addition to the skill list (Athlete) but I'm not sure it ended up being a too-useful addition. A lot of what it does could be subsumed under Soldier or Thief, so I'm not sure it needs to be its own category. Something I'll keep an eye on. I also think that the broader skill steps (+2/+4/+6) works out better, I may need to swing back to the adjective ladder or a suitable stand in for rolling results - the players were producing numerical results without any real context for what they meant, and that's a little bloodless.

On the chargen side, I think we ended up sparking some interesting and useful discussion about Aspects. As a group, we have been using aspects for so long that they have no novelty at all to them, and we regularly go for aspects with a bit of poetic twist on them, one that helps paint a more subtle and nuanced image of the character. This is fantastic, but since we're using fewer aspects, I discovered that we had a group with mostly internally focused aspects. Now, that's not a bad thing in play - lots of good ways to invoke or compel them, no question at all - but they say very little about the game as a whole. In talking about this, I hit upon a term that I'm pleased with: aspects are also an invitation.

Specifically, they are an invitation to the GM to bring certain types of elements into the game, especially when the aspect speaks to something external to the character. This might be as straightforward as an external character as an enemy or ally, but it might be as broad as a certain type of relationship the character expects to see recur. Now, just mentioning this was enough to get my players to step up -as noted, they're awesome - but it was necessary to communicate this because I think that I, as GM, needed to make it explicit that I welcomed any direction they wanted to provide. They know that even if they do no such thing, I'm going to step in and fill in the world anyway, so it's not usually a worry.

And, to be frank, I doubt it would have even come up in another genre. Cold War spy stuff is WAY outside of my comfort zone, so I was in the unusual position of kind of scrabbling around a little bit for some purchase. And it was worth it - sitting down and explicitly drawing out these external points helped bring my vision of the characters more in line with the players, and in one case my impression had been far enough off base that the clarification was super useful.

Still, it's a bit humbling, and in many ways I'm glad this session was part of chargen, since it helped me get the cobwebs off certain parts of my brain. I still need to get more comfortable with the genre, but I think we're off to a good start.

1 - Such one shots have their own rules, since they tend to be short on plot and long on mechanical engagement, since that's kind of the point.


  1. Hi Rob. Where could I read more information about Aspects? I just took over a game that's only a few sessions in, and I'd like to push the players for input on what they'd like to see in game. This may be just what I need.

  2. @B Best place to start is probably the Aspects chapter from Spirit of the Century which is, conveniently, available for free online.

  3. Any session where the players have to routinely desperately try to keep the howling laughter down a notch or two is probably not a bad session.

    I am still trying to settle the last Aspect for Anna. I like the shift from "Everyone's Only Human" to "Everybody's a Person" because it captures that relationships-people-interest that can lead to awkwardly timed conversations. I'm not completely set on her last Aspect, Angles of Approach. I'm not sure it's external enough. o.0

    I enjoyed it. Your rusty is still pretty damned good. It was really nice to actually play a game again.

  4. Name suggestion, borrowing from Warren Ellis: "Persons of Mass Destruction"

  5. On the invitation thing, a keybtjing about aspects is they are a signalling method to manage the player demand and supply of a campaign.

  6. For the supers game I'm working on for Fred, I'm considering that the rest of the world, especially relationships, be built out of characters' aspects, i.e. aspects shared between character and NPC or world. I think there's mojo there.


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