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Weekend Game Analysis [LONG]

Started by Marco, July 20, 2004, 05:27:34 AM

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This is a description of a game I ran this past weekend (using a point-based Simulationst system similar to GURPS)--since I'm heading back to the UK for 3wks, I'd told two of my players (who don't work during the day) that I could run a pretty hard-core short stretch of gaming for them if they were interested. Both were.

I began with a basic concept. I knew I wanted:
1. A Native American theme/color.
2. Dead, famous, hollywood personalities.
3. A story about the end of the world.

Here is the write up I gave the players:
Here are the character parameters:

You are both friends/sibilings/co-workers (whatever--you both know and like each other) and you live in the reclaimed desert city of Salga del Mundo CA--it lies out in the mojave down Tijuana way. It's a sleepy town that's got a smattering of the ultra-rich, the indigent poor, and a swath down the middle of surburban recent arrivals that have come here thanks to the pressure in the more populated areas.

How you came here is up to you: I know that you are both young--you can be anything from kids to teenagers to young adults (the 12-21 age range is open). Salga has a big artist contingent and its share of RV people who travel around selling crafts and leading "alternate lifestyles" (of the alternity that comes from poverty, bitter lack of employment, and often chemical dependency).

It also has its share of new white-washed sidewalks, sparkling
strip-malls, and drive thrus. There's a community college that's just opened and the arcs of new construction projects and track-houses going up around the edges.

But the desert, even with a new five lane black-top highway and a
fresh coat of paint over it is old and strange and dark.  Your
characters are more aware of that than most people.

1. Your characters have 8pts of Luck. That means that you get to
re-roll three rolls each session, substitute a 16- roll for a stat or skill roll, and that you lead a "lucky" life. For purposes of this adventure, despite being lucky, you are not rich (it hasn't yet applied to the lottery--although if you play it does give you a decent secondary source of income).

2. You have 4pts of Sensitive. You can "smell bad things on the wind" and you get chills in some of the old houses or dark hills. Your character may even have a matter of fact relationship with the unnatural (which is different from the *supernatural* in that your character does not per-se "see dead people"). However, where as some of your friends might be into Wicca or neo-paganism or whatever you have a feeling that things are both far, far stranger and a good deal less sunny than they think.

3. Your life is comfortable but *not* glammorous. You may work a
low-stress service job. You might go to school. You might live at home as a slacker (if you choose this there will be some discussion of pressure from your parents--it's not socially acceptable to them most likely). This is in contrast to many of your friends whose lives aren't glamorous either and are very *uncomfortable.*

4. The rest of America is "going to hell in a handbasket."
Unemployment is up. The nation is embroiled in costly foreign wars. The stock-market is down and energy costs are up. There are terror alterts (although out in Salga they have the immediacy of a car alarm blaring two blocks away). Despite the wretched state of affairs, Salga remains a pretty nice place to be (for most of the established people--which you aren't yet).

5. Your characters are 50/4 (4pts Archetype in addition to the 12pts you already have). You can be exceptional on this (especially if young). I'd prefer that if you do excel you do it in some relatively quiet fashion--the game I have in mind doesn't revolve around fame per se.

a. Your character has a passion. We'll work together on it--but tell me what it is (I may have some suggestions for modification). It mightbe to invent a renewable energy source. It might be artistry. It should have, at it's basis a wish to make the world a better place in some way (even if your character is a hardened cynic on the outside this would indicate an inner core of compassion).

c. Reputation: I need to know how alternative your character is. Do you hang out with people who go by the nickname Hangnail and listen to music by "Mucous?" Or are you more preppy and presentable? Also: it is likely that some people find you spooky (although not really spooky unless you have Presence) or that some people believe you are psychic (and you sort of are). The "standard" game assumption is that you are seen as "weird but okay" by some friends--less well liked by others of some acquantiance, and ignored by the rest of the population. But
weird things might lead people to come your way.

At this point I had no real idea as to the action or nature of the game--only major themes (in the literary sense of the word--tone of the game, some likely NPC's, etc.)

This is what I got back:
Stephanie Scarlet: A 19-year old genius who had left Salga for college at 14 and returned after graduation). She lived out on a hilltop outside of town where she's running an experiment which was to harness the waste heat of the desert for free electricity. This was, of course, completely at odds with the second law of thermodynamics.

Her passion is clean energy and science. She had an extreme investment in science skills.

She was mauled by a circus tiger at a young age and carries symetric scars over her entire body that look a little like tiger-stripes. The player informed me that she carries the "spirit of the tiger" (and built a character to show that: combat skills with no training, a predilection to rage, etc.)

Corey Sanders: A pagan industrial metal artist and dirt-bike enthauisiast. She lived in a trailer out in the "flats" (the bad part of town) and works with a blow-torch and auto-bodies to create art. She's extremely talented and respected in the alternate-religious community in southern california.

She wanted to have "something invisible that she talks to."

Her passion was religion and environmentalism. She was very talented with her artistic skills and had a little bit of engineering (she sidelined fixing bikes and working on hers).

They declared they were friends from way back (even though they'd lost touch when Stephanie went to college).

Given these two characters I began work on the game.

1. Stephanie's player had previously played "mad scientist" types and had often done so in games where raw science skills couldn't solve the central problem. I decided, given a mad-scientist, I was going to run a game where, in fact, science skills *would* solve the problem. Because the skill rolls were so high, this posed a slight conundrum: I wouldn't run a mystery where, after 10min of setting up the scene the detective made some rolls and was handed the killer--so I had to figure out how both science skills and roleplaying would intermingle.

2. Corey's invisible friend threw me. I asked her what it was and we had a brief email discussion. I told her that she could seem very strange to people but not actually raving mad--I felt that having a character that all the NPC's would regard as insane was outside the scope of the game. She readily agreed. She told me I could pick her "imaginary friend."

I chose Coyote. And fixed him as a major player in the game.

Situation: Here is the situation I came up with. A year and a half ago during the junior graduation party (it had been the high school senior graduation party until, after talking with the characters, I realized the time-line wouldn't work for Scarlet) two things happened.

a. The thing they knew about: Laney Morrison--a childhood friend of the PC's had been celebrating with them (Stephanie was back in town from college) in the Salga del Mundo Grill--the oldest eatery in the town and one of the most revered. They had agreed to head out to Gila Rock (a spot out in the desert where kids went to hang out, drink, and smoke) and Laney declined. That was the last time they saw him until they saw his picture on Rolling Stone Magazine's cover. He'd run away during his junior year of school and had a sudden, extreme, metoric rise as a rock star.

b. The thing they didn't know about: the Lukachukai Tribe (a name picked at random off the Internet) had performed the task they'd been given at the begining of the world and ended it. Specifically, their reservation casino held a private game of blackjack run by the last remaining medicine man. He dealt cards for James Dean, Elvis Presley, and Marylin Monroe--the archons of the death-culture of western civilization.

The prize were two "whirlpools" of reality that would eat the world under the control of the winner.

James Dean won and was chosen to be the enity to oversee the destruction of this world (universe, everything). But Coyote who had been watching stole the whirpools and hid them.

He hid them inside two young people with great vision: the player characters. They've remained there, hidden in their souls, while the world continues on past the time it was meant to die.

And Then: When the three entities came to town (they knew the prizes had been taken--they did not know by whom or how) they came to the Salga del Mundo grill and found the PC's and Laney. Elvis (whom no one recognized) had a talk with the aspiring rockstar and, thinking the world would soon be over anyway (they expected to find the whirlpools in short order) gave his muse a turbo-boost (gave him advice, inspiration, and a pep-talk) and he, as was his karma, left for stardom.

The other two PC's would've/should've left for stardom of their own sorts (of course the world would've/should've ended too) but because they knew, instinctually, to protect the whirlpools, they stayed behind in Salga which was somehow "protected" by all the strange personal energies there.

Time diverged: in the player's time-line they remembered Laney not going out to Gila Rock with them. When they did go out there, their car broke down and was dead until sunrise when it recussitated mysteriously.

Laney remembers them all staying together: he even has a picture taken of that night with them and Elvis.

Laney, I decied, was coming back into town to talk to his old friends. He knows something is wrong--he feels *they* should've been destined for greatness too. He doesn't really know what though.

I expected that when they met (which I figured would be a near climax or the actual climax) the fact that time had been split (with photographic evidence) would explain a lot of things.

Development: I knew several things from this starting point.

1. James Dean (and to a lesser extent Elvis and Marylin) were going to be in town looking for the whirlpools. James was rather pissy about it. The other two were interested in putting the universe to sleep but were not as militant about it. I did some internet research for descriptions, quotes, and biographies.

2. The "end of the world" was going to be based on Native American mythology (very, very loosely) and would not be "the end of everything." I checked the Internet and discovered some creation myths where the world was covered with water and a great turtle became land for the first humans.

I decided that the whirlpools would be the "descent of the turtle"--but that there was a new world waiting to be born. If the world was ended properly the spirit that did so (James Dean according to the universe--but maybe a PC if they realized the whirlpools were within them) could greatly effect how traumatic the change over was to be.

In other words, the PC's *could* choose to let the world end if they understood that wasn't the death of everything and wanted to--they could usher in the new world.

3. I wanted both characters to begin with something that was both game-significant and character related. Because I had, literally, three days to run this I knew it'd need to be fairly tight.

Opening Scenarios
Stephanie: I knew that she was working against the second law of thermodynamics (using waste heat for a postitive energy flow). The player had mentioned she had a grant. So I asked what her workshop was like (a trailer and a beat up garage on a lonely hiltop outside of town) and I came up with this.

Her funder was Xeron Energetics who had accepted her request for funding when everyone else had turned her down saying she was brilliant but misguided. In fact, they had happily shipped her expensive raw components for her experiments, keeping careful track of what she did with them--but seemingly less interested in the results.

Some exploration of this convinced the character that her backers were more interested in a government tax-write off than her experiments. The one organization that had "believed in her" was actually using her to save money (and had no faith in her experiments). It set a tone of dark cynical humor for the game.

The player had told me that there had been significant problems with the experiments due to rodents eating the power cables and other interference. I think that may have been related to the tiger-essence (cat and mouse)--but mainly I was somewhat mystified.

I also didn't know exactly what form this "air-conditioning the desert" project was taking.

Stephanie's Scenario: Despite Xeron's seeming lack of care, she got a message saying that an auditor, Dr. John Liger was coming to inspect her plant. On the same day a newspaper reporter from the Salga Trumpet was coming to investigate reports of "giant rats."

We established that despite great physics rolls and such the project was not going well (this was agreed upon by the player at character creation time).

Aside: Before I knew what the player was coming up with, I figured that there wouldn't be much actual science involved and created a project on my own dealing with Maxwell's Demon as a potential violation of the second law. When I explained this to the player it was rejected! I was surprised: especially because I had worked the themes of the experiment in with the themes of the scenario in a (to me) very pleasing way.

But the player had their own ideas about the project and said that it was using some sort of magnetic energy flow to get the heat moving out in the desert.

When the project was explained to me by the player, I said I liked it: It seemed doomed to operatic failure (who beats the second law of thermodynamics) and the player specified that there were solar pannels and windmills set up to collect natural energy to jumpstart the process.

I liked the quixotic nature of it--it even had windmills. I was even more excited when the player described the magenetic action in a way that was sort of like a tornado ... or a whirlpool.

I silently decided that although perhaps less interesting in terms of real physics the player's idea serendipidously fit perfectly into the nature of the game.

I decided then and there that the rodent attacks were a manifestation of the Second Law working against Stephanie's anti-entropy pump. The more her experiments violated the second law the more the universe would retaliate in the forms of vermin, decay, and other things.

My Plan: My plan was to introduce James Dean. James had been brooding in the spirit world for 18 months and had finally come out to have another look. He stole Dr. Liger's mind and would show up in his place (seeming *nothing* like a phycisist). He believed that Stephanie's experiments were foolish and doomed to failure but he conceded that maybe, somehow, they were preventing the whirlpools from resurfceing.

I was going to have JD and a reporter following up rumors of suspiciously large animals in the desert show up at roughly the same time. Stephanie would have to contend with a "phycisist" who didn't seem at all legitimate (he's James Dean!) and a nosy reporter--at the same time as several malfunctions would hit.

Possible Outcome: Doubting "Dr. Liger" is who he says he is. If the character checked with the company she'd be told that Dr. Liger is "a 40 year old Indian gentelman") This would presumably lead to some discussion with James Dean.

Corey's Scenario: Since it was established that she was respected in the pagan community, I had her going out to a wicker-man lighting (not Burning Man, but, a small multi-faith pagan/wiccian/Native American/gothic/etc. rave/celebration out in the desert). I said that it was a coming together of the many, many alternative religions that flourished on the edges of society in Salga Del Mundo. It was important for her to be there since she was respected both for her art and her "vision." (The characters have spirtural sensitivity as one of their talents).

I also introduced Venice, a childhood friend who had hung out with Corey in high school and beyond--but her parents were members of the one "alternate religion" that wasn't alternative in Salga Del Mundo: the Church of the Few. The Church of the Few (the "elite") was a money-rich organization with lots of local governmental pull and a massive brilliant white temple on the main street. They were respectable, upright, and holier-than-thou. Venice was a good friend of Corey's and had been trying to get her to join the church--gently suggesting she come by and check it out.

I determined that Venice and the Church of the Few would play a major role in the game later (at least for Corey).
1. They *knew* the end of the world should've happened and was coming.
2. They *understood* most of what would happen.
3. They had made "arrangments" so that *something* of this world would remain (they didn't know there was another world waiting to be born--they thought the world would collapse and leave them with the last remaining matter in the universe--their own paradise). This was essentially true. The things they had talked to were death-spirits like James Dean and crew.
4. They knew that Corey (and Stephanie) had "the vision" and wanted them onboard--but in subservient positions.
5. They were annoying, condescending, stuffy, and capable of doing some very bad things--but they weren't evil.
6. Venice was more interested in scoring points with her church than helping out her friend--but only somewhat. She'd betray her friend if necessary--but was committed to gentle pursuasion to get her in.

At the party out in the desert I introduced a number of NPCs, the major two were Gerhard and Harry. Gerhard was a failed Shaman--the adopted son of the Lukachukai Tribe's aging medicine man. He'd been thrown out for *something* (for being selfish and lacking vision and so on) and had come to Salga and become a local celeberity in the alternitive circuit. He didn't like Corey (she threatened him, also having real vision) and his friend, Harry Calvin was a wealthy banker's son who bankrolled Gerhard as  his guru.

My Plan: Gerhard and Harry would harass the PC (Harry in a juvenile and nasty fashion, Gerhard more philosophically). There would be several introductions and friendly NPCs would encourage the PC to either bless or give a speech before the ceremony began.

Then something magical and *bad* would happen (I'll detail that in a moment).

If the PC didn't give a speech or did and was arguing with Gerhard (who is respected by many people there) the PC would be *blamed* for it by some of the people there. This would have far-reaching consequences into the game.

I would also have Venice establish herself as a friend (defending the PC) but also warning the PC that she was "losing her chances to join the Church of the Few and be saved."

I decided I would use her imaginary friend, Coyote to introduce interesting information on the individual characters and try to increase the tension with the rival NPC's.

What Happened
I started running Stephanie out in her trailer running test and had a roll deterine how many things went wrong. It was near dark and I'd planned to cut over to Corey after estabilshing that Dr. Liger was showing up tomrrow, a reporter was investigating a scare story about giant rodents in the field, and the equipment was breaking.

However, the player had Stephanie go out (near dark) and fix some of the gear. I described the desert night as pretty unsettling to be out in alone, but the PC referenced the character's tiger-essence and went out at dusk to check out the damage.

I decided that the reporter was out there taking pictures of one of the windmills and they encountered each other. They also discovered the electrified body of a huge hairless rat. Both characters were somewhat repulsed but the photographs of the rat didn't bode well for the PC's reputation. I also introduced the concept that someone was sabotaging the gear (it was the forces of entropy at work in an accelerated manner--but to the scientist it looked like intentional sabotage).

Finally, due to timing, I cut back to Stephanie as she was heading back and had her encounter Elvis coming into town. Elvis had stopped near the side of the road and was standing on a hilltop looking into town. He was friendly with Stephanie (who was amazed to meet a drop-dead gorgeous young man claiming to be a traveling salesman). He was also coming down a stretch of road that dead-ended in the desert.

I expected the character might find that strange but the player missed it.

For Corey, there was some mild politicking that the player really got into and when the time came, she, to my surprised not only made a speech but made a *great* one--about unity even in the face of disparate beleifs.

I realized that having done that it would be illogical for people to blame her for what happened next--and, in fact, I felt that even the "enemy" Gerhard, would probably see her as more of an ally after that.

But it didn't change what he'd come to do--and that was to try *his* hand at unmaking the world.

He knew that his adoptive father had performed the ritual (he didn't know what it consisted of precisely or what form it had taken)--but that clearly the world was still there. Since he had serious rivalry issues with his father he would end the world himself.

He told the crowd that his nation had been given the task of unmaking the world. He said his adoptive father had bungled it and now he was going to make it right. He said the "words of unmaking" and began the ceremony lighting the wickerman on fire (yes, this was acknowledged by all involved as a serious meshing of different alternative religious beleifs--but in the game everyone in that community was more or less okay with it). Because he was standing right next to a whirlpool (Corey) it worked! Or, rather, started working.

What happened was that Harry, sitting on the ground with a can of beer, started talking and then "fell into" a hole in the earth--a hole that shrank, closing like the top of a draw-stirng bag to about three inches in diameter.

After moments of stunned silence and then terrified digging all anyone could find in the desert was more sand. No sign of Harry. No sign of a larger chamber under the ground. Even Gerhard was horrified (he'd been prepared to end everything to prove himself the better medicine man--but to just have seemingly condemned one of his friends to suffocation underground was terrifying).

This was the first major divergence from my likely-chain-of-events. Rather than having tension with all the alternate religions that Corey was involved with, she was more of an observer--but an active one, working to figure out what had happened.

Further Development: What happened next was interesting from a campaign construction standpoint. There were several encounters with the established NPC's. Certain trends developed (Venice told Corey she'd *better* hurry up and join the Church of the Few: bad things were coming).

But three things happened that I did NOT expect:
1. There were LOST DOG signs up around town featuring a picture of Corey's imaginary friend: Coyote (but with photographs). The nunmber was to a Hollywood agency who had a casting agent in town for an environmental PSA. Marylin Monroe (under her birth name) was in town having taken the identity of the Hollywood casting executive and was using her special knowledge to try to lure in anyone to whom Coyote was appearing. This also fit (somewhat inadvertently) with Corey's environmental passion.

If Corey followed up on the (bizarre and alarming) pictures of her imaginary companion, she would likely (temporarily at least) become Marylin's captive. Marlyin would never suspect that the whirlpools were hidden inside a person--but she would suspect Coyote of being behind it and would try to get some information out of Corey.

The other PC could, probably, engineer an escape. I expected this to advance the game since the players would know there were iconic dead personalities running around (and this would fit into the known situation in other interesting ways).

Corey saw the signs, was properly freaked out by them--but did NOT call. Coyote, when asked, thought this was a good idea (despite the fact that *I* wanted her to call).

2. Also: the fact that James Dean seemed NOTHING like a respectable phycisist he did have the *knowledge* of one (he'd taken the real Dr. Liger's mind) and the player just thought he was bizarre.

3. The PC's, trying to make some sense out of what happened to Harry Calivn decided to go to the indian reservation and talk to Gerhard's adoptive father.

This was entirely logical and reasonable--I just hadn't thought of it. So when they went out there, I had to decide what the shaman would tell them.

I decided he'd tell them very litte: he'd done his bit--it had gone wrong. He told them to take a message to Gerhard "If you have made a hole in the world it will keep getting bigger."

Rising Action To Climax: The characters visited the Native Americans, visited other people in the town (new-age mystics, conspiracy theorists), became more and more suspicious of James Dean--but didn't bother to follow him up, spoke with coyote, and went out in the desert.

At one point, during a system test of Stephanie's system, James Dean was impressed: he said it looked "just like his whirlpool but was going in the wrong direction." When pressed as to what that meant, he was enigmatic--he said someone had promised him a finished project once but not delivered. The player was interested but, again, didn't follow it up (I suspect for lack of seeing a means to check him out). At another point Elvis showed up and told Stephanie that he was looking for ... Dr. Liger. He gave Stephanie a card to call him on.

Important: Throughout the game, their friend Laney Morrison, the rock star, had been returning to town. Over the two days of play in game and out, the characters were told he was being greeted with a celebration at the mayor's house. They were invited. They also learned that when he mysteriously disappeared he'd gone and seen the Church of the Few's main temple in San Francisco. This linked him to the cult and less clearly to the mysterious things that had happened. The invites were definitely strange too. In the end he was in town--they had planned on seeing him the night of the party,

QuoteNote:The players *knew* something weird was going on and these two "beautiful people" were somehow wrong and connected and everything (Elvis said he was selling Luxoflux vaccum cleaners, something no one bought). However, again and again they didn't accuse, investigate, or collabrate on it.

This lack of investigative avenue contributed to them not realizing that letting the holes open was a viable alternative if they managed it correctly. There were still other ways for that information to be introduced however.

Also: the returning rock-star had a lot of information. It linked the tribe's original attempt to end the world to the appearence of Elvis (Laney has a picture with all of them in it) and fractured time. When they met, I thought, it would explain a lot of things--including some of the end-game options (at very least it would set up questions to ask).

The party was likely to be the final showdown: that was when the Cult's plan to escape would happen, when some of the personalities would show up, and when the characters would get their showdown with the various authority figures around town (and convince the Mayor that THEIR PLAN TO SAVE THE WORLD WAS NECESSARY (TM))

Corey's Dream and the Cult: Corey had been working on a piece of art--then, after sleeping, she had a dream where the Coyote looked at the piece she was working on (inspired by Calivn falling in a hole) and told her that wasn't going to work for her. She needed something positive. It told her to try again.

I told her that, in the dream, there was another piece of art there--what was it and what did it mean? She told me it was a steel image of an hour-glass with ballbearings instead of grains of sand in the upper chamber. They were connected so they couldn't fall. The name of the sclupture was "Time Enough" and the significance was that there was always enough time until you lost hope. The Coyote was satisfied and she awakened and began work.

She was invited to the cult to speak to the pastor. She wanted answers. This was a powerful moment in the game. The pastor looked like an action hero, could see her Coyote since he too had "the sight" (this threw her badly off guard) and told her that when the world fell away only the faithful would be saved. They had paintings of great islands connected by rope bridges hanging in void under a null-sun (that looked like a sun during an eclipse) and he said if she didn't join she'd fall forever--but the church would take her and her friend and they would be welcome in the new order with everything provided by the caretakers.

She asked about her art--and he told her that it was ego and she would leave it behind: the faithful would have only their personal development as works of art in the new world, striving to better themselves. She was concerned about her friend's nervousness that she might join (that Corey might fail to sign up). The pastor dismissed those concerns saying that Venice was already one of the elect and would be welcome in the surviving world whether she came on or not.

She ended the scene by telling the pastor that she didn't think their way was the only way (although she was unsure of that) and taking a satellite network pager. When it went off the caravan was leaving for the section on earth that was projected to survive.

She said goodbye to her friend.

QuoteNotes: The scene with the artwork was powerful as well--I asked for some positive meaning in the art and got that time was infinite and that things could all work out given a chance. The player didn't know that time in the game was fractured--but I felt this worked very well (so did she when that was unveiled). I had determined that whatever positive value was impressed in the artwork would be relevant in the game.

The scene with the cult was both emotional and carefully played: I made sure that the cult, although holier than thou was seen as both moderately caring (the pastor told the PC that the NPC needn't fear punishment if she failed to convert her friend) and with positive attributes (the leader was strong, charismatic, and self-assured). Although abandoning her art was out of character (as well as her bad-relationship with authority) facing the end of the world I think the player had an uncomfortable suspicion that this might be a safe bet that she'd have to take if other avenues failed.

We also brought into play the idea that time was running out. The player, after considering this--and, I think, feeling it, suddenly realized there were things in her favor and had the character remind the pastor that there was "Time Enough" for more things to come to pass.

The scene ended strongly.

Stephanie in the desert:It turned out the holes were spreading. Large dark holes were found with sand draining down into them. At one point a player went down in one and found the actual phenomena (hanging from a rope). There was some complex description (there was a translucent "film" in the air with the dirt tunnel extending below it. The phenomena emitted heat and one could touch it and feel force waves turning in a counter-clockwise function).

The player made some rolls and determined (as well as concluding intellectually) that the systems were some kind of concentrated entropy. Using a cell-phone in the hole created an EMP effect and the player and character reasoned they were magnetic.

The player also heard sounds from down inside the hole--sounds like one might hear from a wind blowing over a bottle top.

QuoteNotes: The whole climbing down the hole thing was done with a character by herself and with no climbing skill. The player started this with no real inclination that it might be dangerous or difficult ("I tie a rope to me and to the pipe and go down"). Examinations of the character's STR to weight proved that it would, in fact, be pretty difficult to climb up.

We resolved the situation with dice-rolls. Because it was established that rats were eating cables and such, if she had been unable to climb out, I would've had a rat come and chew the rope and drop her into the depths (and into the new world). However, the player pulled off several difficult roles and climbed out.

I kind of wanted a character down the hole--and the odds were decent she'd hang there long enough that a rat would legitimately come along (the PC's had been attacked by mutant rats in the test area previously). When the rolls were made, however, the avenue of information was lost for then.

However: the character and the player both had an idea of what they could do: the system fed on entropy and reduced it. If it could be made stable enough, the character could close the holes. It was also clear that the magnetic whirlpool was going in the opposite direction (the character's system was opposite the phenonemna).

End Game: The players got together and realized that holes were opening quickly. The town was falling apart (I'd been describing electrical power and utilities going out--now buildings were collapsing and sinkholes were opening). Out in the desert were massive black bottomless holes.

With an Engineering roll Stephanie realized that she needed several high-tension lines and some help recalibrating the system. She asked me where those could be gotten and I told her the city generator.

QuoteNote: When grouping up for action, the characters discovered the real identities of James Dean and crew. A neighbor had told Corey that a young man had been by to see her (described Elvis)--and Stephanie's player noted that they had no way to contact James Dean. I pointed out that the company had a contact number. The character called and discovered that Liger was nothing at all like the person she'd met. When going over to the neighbors mobile home, they looked in and saw lots of 50's movie memorabilia--and all their friends up there on the wall.

It was a bit dues-ex to have those things co-incide--but the neighbor had existed all along (with invites to come over) and the player had decided to contact Liger at the appropriate moment--so I looked at it more as "coming together."

This excited the players, who thought it was cool--but didn't convince them to get anywhere near these spirits of the dead.

Now: the PC's discussed just going and liberating them--but they were described as four or five spools of heavy cable. The PC's together couldn't lift or transport one, much less four. There was also, I said, a guard.

They decided to seek the mayor. They found him in a crisis center with the city falling apart and (dramatically) made their pitch. The did not discuss holes in the desert but did say that Stephanie's experiment had destabalized things and she could set it right.

The Mayor, unconvinced and fearing that if it were true it would make things *worse,*  refused them. It was pretty clear they'd need some extra influence to convince him ... like, say, the returning millionare rock-star (and long-time friend) the town was toasting that evening.

QuoteNotes: This was a key scene. There had been allegations all through the game of mutant animals, blackouts, and other nastiness. In the scene with the Mayor there was one of the character's detractors (a reporter) there--and the character had confessed previously to the Chief of Police that, yes, her experiments did seem to somehow be related to power-outages although she couldn't see how.

Here's how we ran it: I layed out what was going on and briefly told them what they figured the mayor thought (my town is in crisis and a 19year-old genius who has been runing bizarre research says she's responsible and can reverse it if given much MORE power. I said he wasn't inclined to let that happen yet because he didn't know just how bad things really were--or were going to get.

Stephanie's player considered this and felt it would come down to a Persuade roll. Corey's player thought he should get Reason rolls to realize the situation was critical. We discussed the latter and I said that he knew things were bad but couldn't envision a totall collapse of the earth. She agreed.

We did the reason roll calling for a "Good Success" (Major, level 3 out of 5 levels). It came up 1 point short.

I was glad to see that: the timeline in my head would've allowed that to work pretty undramatically. As it stood, the PC's getting turned away raised the stakes and allowed them more time to explore other options--as well as maybe getting in contact with the rock-star or the spirits of the dead.

That was what I figured they'd do.

Big Finish: They went to the reservation. Stephanie, seeing the desert draining away, the resivor emptying and the hospital (fortunately evacuated) collapse decided to go see if the shaman could help. She wanted him to get his people behind her--and assist in liberating the coils.

I reminded the player that he'd already tried to end the world--and it had failed--he wasn't mr. world-preservation.

The player said that since the shaman did his best the Nation was absolved of its charge and could continue to live. Gerhard's words of unmaking weren't part of the "plan" either (which was true--in fact, they worked as they did because Corey was there when he said them ... with the hidden Whirlpool).

I ... agreed that had a point. I said we'd try it.

They, in a dramatic fashion convinced the chief that the world had a reason to keep living--could be healed, etc. He rallied his people--they balked at first (some had been out in the desert and were horrified at what they saw coming--but raiding a power plant seemed ... unwise). He said that this was his last act as their medicine man--as their shaman--and after that the Nation was broken--but for now his word was true and they'd better listen. He believed they could do it because of Corey's knowledge of Coyote.

They agreed.

It all came together with a raid on the power-plant (the guard was duct-tapped), the collection of the Enough-Time piece of artwork which Corey figured she might need (she was right) and a return to the area.

There was a big deal with setting up the enhanced system, giant black holes and swaths stretching out in the mojave, and the use of the Enough Time pice to repair a fallen windmill getting enough power to bring the system on line.

When they ran it, the reverse-magnetic whirlpool started, visible on the computer screens, this time MASSIVE instead of small and weak--and across the whole of the desert snow started to fall as the holes evaporated.

It ended strongly.

QuoteNotes: None of this went the way I'd expected it to. I'd originally been amazed they'd involve the native americans at all--but the argument that they'd try to save the world rang true with me since I had portrayed the rank and file as very detached from the spirituality. The shaman wouldn't want to see them die in terror and agony--and given a credible oracle who spoke with Coyote and a scientist who could reverse the mistake made by his estranged son, I decided, what the hell, it has a chance.

After the speech, I decided they were convincing enough. I didn't roll for it even though doing so would have created the climax *I* had envisioned from that position (remember, the climax could have been a showdown with the three death archons for proper control and use of the wirlwinds--or complete "failure" and the characters joining the Church of the Few ...)

The raid on the power-plant was interesting too: I described the characters as having 70 people for back-up and most of them (lightly) armed. I wasn't sure what kind of security the plant would have but I decided that other than a non-alamred gate there'd be a guard or two--something easily overpowered.

I wondered if in an age of home-land security there would be more serious protection--but I decided that (as I'd said in my initial write up) such things seemed far-away down in Salga Del Mundo.

The necessity for the physical presence of the Time-Artwork was a thing of beauty: a very badly blown role indicated the loss of a major piece of equipment--a tall metal windmill base. It turned out they had one handy--right there. I think the players must have felt this was magic since they rolled the dice themselves and the descriptions of failure were detailed ahead of time.

When Corey's beeper went off (around the time of the party as the timeline indicated) there was a final (nastier) goodbye as Venice, not understanding why Corey wouldn't want to be saved, told her she was an egotistical fool.

Wrap-up: Discussions with Stephanie's character about her Tiger-essence were interesting too: although I did very little to overtly encourage it, the one battle (with mutant rats) ended with two characters wounded and running and her chasing down rats. The player felt this was awesome tiger-essence even though I hadn't even thought of that during the game.

The player felt the character's raw design had been allowed to make the statement that was wanted in the game (assisted by me--but unwittingly by giving challenges that the character stood up to bravely).

The Three: Since the personalities made no breakthrough and didn't interact with the PC's too much, the last scene of them was the three of them sitting down together in the Salga Del Mundo Grill, drinking milkshakes and talking about the future. It seemed, I thought, a very fitting end for them.

Finally: There was no mechanical reward system in play. No experince points were given. After the first night I was asked (jokingly) for some and I said "You want some XP? What would you do with it?" The player said that, no, it wasn't a real request--and that was that. If asked I'd have given out 2-3 points (a moderate amount in the game) just because.

But there was no reward-mechanic involved for any play--not for roleplaying, not for success, not for figuring things out--nothing like that.

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John Kim

Cool game!  I only belatedly realized after reading it that "Salga Del Mundo" means "End of the World".  Some questions from me:  how well did you understand to yourself  how the weird science and magic worked?  For example, when Gerhard tried his ritual beside Corey, how did you decide what happened?  Was it more "this seems like it will be neat" or was it more "this is what I think would happen given my understanding of magic here"?  My vague impression would be the latter, but it's hard to say.  

A problem that I often have with magic things is that my vision and the players' vision don't really gel.  So I have a vision of how things work, but I can't communicate it very well.  This leads to assumption clash with the players.  Other times, what I thought I understood intuitively turns out to give me no answers when I am called on for an answer.  This was a problem for me in Water-Uphill-World.  

The strange thing as I read it in the game was the role of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Elvis Presley.  They seemed to play a vital role in the background but didn't actually have a big role in the events -- and once the players realized who they were, they essentially didn't appear anymore.  But I think that may be a matter of presentation.  i.e. Starting from your preparations, you thought these three would be more central than they were.  But I suspect that to the players, they were more of an interesting flourish rather than central to the game.
- John


Hi John,
Gald you liked it!

Yes--the name was quite intentional! It could be End of the World or The World's Exit :)  Good catch (the players didn't get it!).

As per the science: I read a lot of science lit and slip-stream hack stuff and had some ideas *I* was excited about for the Maxwell's Demon solution (I don't hold wacky over-unity ideas about reality but I was down with the fictional take). As far as the character's science I was at a loss--but I decided that since it was player-introduced it didn't matter if I understood the 'how,' only the 'what.'  When we figured out he had a stability pump that fed on entropy and produced power, I was, like, "okay--these holes are concentrated entropy!"

As per the magic: it was entirely based on how I figured magic would work. I *did* have to think things through and produce as stable a cosmology as I could (including what Corey's Imaginary Friend Coyote knew and didn't know--I ruled it was the fractal image of the pattern that was 'Coyote' within her--meaning it really only knew 'what she knew' but filtered the data through Coyote's mindset ... if that makes any sense).

I was shooting for a pretty cause-and-effect style game and relying on the system and situation to provide drama. That meant that I had to have at least a loose understanding of why Gerhard's spell worked and his father's didn't.

Another question (which never came up really) was what the death-spirits would be like in combat (they actually were attacked by giant bald rats in the desert and James Dean was bitten twice, killed one, and ran). While I realized they *could* just absorb people's minds or hijack their identities and were highly perceptive and clued into the world I also ruled they wouldn't really do that as a combat option (if they had tried to just absorb the PC's, I ruled they'd be killed by the whirlpools within each one of them!)

If the PC's had fought with James in the real world he'd simply have punched them in the face--and he was pretty tough--but no navy seal (nor even a chuck norirs). I didn't blame the pc's for fearing him though--even though they'd saw him bug out under the freaky hairless rat attack (having a young daughter, I had access to, and played the music from Walt Disney's Kim Possible cartoon "The Naked Mole Rap" (from the Naked Mole Rat character in the show) during the battle) they later attributed JD's fleeing to "Hey, I might be a god but damn, those are freaky nasty rats! rather than mortality.

I also ruled the death spirits, if killed, would simply return.

Which brings me to the next point: you're dead on. The three were supposed to be important NPC's or even major antagonists. What happened was that the players bringing in Gerhard's father opened up a direction I totally didn't see from the start and a solution I hadn't anticipated. Thus they successfully disengaged from the antagonists and still had a viable solution to the problem.

Go figure.

I had considered checking to see if, during the final power-up of the project the three realized where the whirlpools were (the anti-entropy field might reveal them--seemed plausible to me) and staging a final assault with the three against the PC's while they were shutting down the holes in the world.

This would have been decidedly Dramatist--and I was pretty committed to Virtuality--and it would've reduced my level of satisfaction with that particular game.

The thing is, it wasn't necessary--the energy was electric without it and we were running out of time to play. So it was a non-issue.

Finally: there was a rock formation out in the desert called The Playhouse that was "a bad place"--it was at the end of Copper Mine road (the road that dead-ended out in the desert where the rave was held). That was where the three came back into the world. I half expected the PC's to wind up there in a grim-showdown with death for control of their whirlpools (another possible end-game condition).

I can't honestly say I know how that would've happened or how it would've turned out--my prep-work didn't get that far and it became apparent about half way through that that just plain wasn't likely. But I do think I could've extrapolated for it.

JAGS (Just Another Gaming System)
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John Kim

Quote from: MarcoAs per the magic: it was entirely based on how I figured magic would work. I *did* have to think things through and produce as stable a cosmology as I could (including what Corey's Imaginary Friend Coyote knew and didn't know--I ruled it was the fractal image of the pattern that was 'Coyote' within her--meaning it really only knew 'what she knew' but filtered the data through Coyote's mindset ... if that makes any sense).

I was shooting for a pretty cause-and-effect style game and relying on the system and situation to provide drama. That meant that I had to have at least a loose understanding of why Gerhard's spell worked and his father's didn't.  
Good.  Pretty much what I thought on that point.  I guess you were using JAGS Or JAGS2?  So when (if ever) did you think you had problems with the system, and correspondingly when would you say that the system was particularly strong/useful?  

As far as drama, it seems to me that it worked pretty well.  As is generally the case in these (i.e. rgfa Simulationist) games, the drama flows from the character's decisions.  From your description, Corey's arc seemed very strong -- going from artist to activist, with his turning point being in the Church of the Few.  And the use of "Time Enough" ironically as a last-ditch effort to save the world perfectly represented this.  I don't get as strong as an impression from Stephanie.  I wonder if you had observations on how she changed as a result of the events.
- John


Quote from: John Kim
Good.  Pretty much what I thought on that point.  I guess you were using JAGS Or JAGS2?  So when (if ever) did you think you had problems with the system, and correspondingly when would you say that the system was particularly strong/useful?  

As far as drama, it seems to me that it worked pretty well.  As is generally the case in these (i.e. rgfa Simulationist) games, the drama flows from the character's decisions.  From your description, Corey's arc seemed very strong -- going from artist to activist, with his turning point being in the Church of the Few.  And the use of "Time Enough" ironically as a last-ditch effort to save the world perfectly represented this.  I don't get as strong as an impression from Stephanie.  I wonder if you had observations on how she changed as a result of the events.

It was JAGS-2. The problem that we had with the system was that due to a  simplification change Stephanie's rolls were so high they boarded on academic (even rolling at "-10" was a 12- roll). Note that in JAGS/J2 it's often important *how much* a roll was made by which did make things not-entirely-academic even so--but it was still something that, as a game-designer, annoyed me.

Additionally we discovered a bug which allowed Stephanie's character to be highly immune to combat damage due to a combination of Resolve and Will To Fight (which gave the character CON rolls on a 14-, something a barbarian would have).

Both are under consideration. We agreed to modify those for the game so I expect that'd count as drift--but it was a highly formalized discussion and we did know we were still in playtest (although I admit I was surprised to see those issues come up).

Stephanie was the more passive of the two--but it was her player's decision to go see the indian tribe both times--and the mayor. So in a sense it was her player who discovered and enacted the ending that resolved things with none of my "likely" climaxes.

I did feel there was a pretty high level of drama and player drive--especially since after the initial situations (both of which had no particular outcome in mind) the game had very little traction on the players (the antagonists were there but not calling shots, the players had relatively little information but it was their skills or things they'd chosen like the imaginary friend, that gave them information in ways that I think were predictable--meaning ways they'd expect).

Stephanie had nothing quite like the show-down scene in the church--but Corey had Issues with Authority (as a defect) which was central to several of her conflicts (also with the chief of police). Stephanie had relatively few such defects which, again, led to a little less traction.

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John Kim

Quote from: Marco
Quote from: John KimI guess you were using JAGS Or JAGS2?  So when (if ever) did you think you had problems with the system, and correspondingly when would you say that the system was particularly strong/useful?
It was JAGS-2. The problem that we had with the system was that due to a  simplification change Stephanie's rolls were so high they boarded on academic (even rolling at "-10" was a 12- roll). Note that in JAGS/J2 it's often important *how much* a roll was made by which did make things not-entirely-academic even so--but it was still something that, as a game-designer, annoyed me.
OK, here's my two cents on the issue.  I'm currently running James Bond 007, which is excellent for this IMO.  It makes the Quality Rating of success (from 4=marginal to 1=best) constantly important.  So in my game the agents are double-ohs who usually have 120%+ chance of success, there is still an important feeling in the die roll because we aren't sure whether it will be just a QR4 or something better.  

My advice would be to make sure there are break points in the number of successes.  Basically, the question of "Made by 17" vs "Made by 15" seems pretty dull.  But if there is a definite threshold of "normal success" vs "critical success", then it brings more doubt and uncertainly in the roll.  

In James Bond 007, the PCs are constantly aware of just how kick-ass they are compared to the rest of the population -- but it is still a notable and cool event when one of them rolls a QR1 success.  

Quote from: MarcoI did feel there was a pretty high level of drama and player drive--especially since after the initial situations (both of which had no particular outcome in mind) the game had very little traction on the players (the antagonists were there but not calling shots, the players had relatively little information but it was their skills or things they'd chosen like the imaginary friend, that gave them information in ways that I think were predictable--meaning ways they'd expect).

Stephanie had nothing quite like the show-down scene in the church--but Corey had Issues with Authority (as a defect) which was central to several of her conflicts (also with the chief of police). Stephanie had relatively few such defects which, again, led to a little less traction.
Another system note here.  I think it is pretty well understood that disadvantages are generally a dramatic device -- i.e. they give the character hooks which make her dramatically interesting, and provide reward for doing so.  However, JAGS2 has the GURPS-like psychological disadvantages of a fixed list, as opposed to the HERO approach of having a general rule and a long list of examples.  I think the broader and more flexible HERO approach is superior as far as providing drama.  GURPS spends effort trying to objectively define its psychological disadvantages (i.e. make Will rolls at X penalty in Y condition).  I don't consider that the objective definition is worth much, but then I'm pretty anti-Gamist.  Then again, I'm sure opinions differ -- I'm just expressing my views on the subject.
- John


Hi John,

Thanks for the comments--here's my response:

1. JAGS/J2 distinguishes between "made by 5" and "made by 10" -- there are also negative modifiers which high skill levels and certain enhancements let you "ignore" (the character had like a 97% chance of success--but was able to ignore up to 5pts of negative modifier).

Yes: in the final test there was a "make-by-10 check." And it was a good deal tenser than the average rolls. I think we cover that pretty well.

2. In J/J2 disads aren't seen as "balancing anything" (we're not the only ones that way)--so you generally don't get many points for them. If you take Blind or something you get a bunch of points but it's not to "make up for being blind" exactly (we didn't do calculations about what Blind would do to your combat skills and then try to compensate for that, for example).

Many of the J/J2 defects *are* general (Enemy is broken down into how dangerous they are to you--but we don't say who they are). There are things like "Obnoxious" where you get to specify how and how it comes up, stuff like that.

Our feeling was that specific abilities (the J-Supers rules has Freeze Ray, Lightning Bolt, and Fire Blast as separate abilities) gave more character to the powers--but the game is, I think, philosophically okay with adding other effects or re-defining one (there's generic Power Blast which you can define however you want--if the other participants *let you* call it Lightning, you can--but if you want it to go through metal armor much more easily than a standard Power Bolt we'd expect you to pay for it like we charge for Lightning ... so there's only so far one can reasonably go in re-defining a power).

In general, I agree that Hero's take is probably mechanically superior. In the J-2 book there's a section that says that the listed mechanics are sort of standard-case only and should be re-interperted on a case-by-case basis.

I'm still thinking about how best to do that.

JAGS (Just Another Gaming System)
a free, high-quality, universal system at:
Just Released: JAGS Wonderland