[3:16] Virgins on a Wet Planet

Started by knicknevin, February 05, 2009, 05:35:22 PM

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After running all my games at Conception X, I was asked by some of my chalet mates to run a game of 3:16 for them, with the difference ebing that of the 4 who wanted to play, only 1 had ever played in an RPG before. I learned more about my pre-conceptions about the game and my own style of GMing in 2 hours that I had in the previous 4 days.

I enlisted the aid of my mate Dave to work out the mission briefing while I explained the rules of the game to the four players, a process which went easily, especially when I stole Terry Pratchetts explanation of the chain of command:
- The Segeant decides what he wants to happen
- The Corporal decides how to make it happen
- The Troopers have to do it

The mission took place on planet Titian, a world enshrouded by perpetual clouds and fierce electromagnetic storms; the platoon were on reconnaissance, so very liitel was known about the inhabitants, but they turned out to be anthropomorphic polar-bear/otter hybrids with a straange biotechnology.

At first, everyone was going for a 7/3 or 6/4 split on their abilities, with highest number in FA, until I gently prodded Richard (the only one with prior role-playing experience) with the suggestion that someone in the group should be able to lead them into battle (i.e. avoid them getting ambushed at the start of every combat) Looking back though: why? They were all looking to get in some gung-ho alien blasting, so while my suggestion made sense for the group, it might have detracted from one individual player's enjoyment of the game. Needless to say, Richard ended up with fewer kills than most other players.

Anyway, with Richard as Sergeant, the platoon made rough landfall and proceeded to gather intel: lafter a brief skirmish with some aliens caught beneath their dropship, the way ahead was scouted out by Chris, a keen miniatures player, who translated his strategic knowledge into a brillaintly narrated character. Everyone embraced the idea of the MandelBrite suits being able to perform as required, leading to a great scene of Chris tracking the aliens through the night and lying in wait by using his infra-red view and motion detector.

Luckily for my throat, Dave was available to set scenes and provide descriptions of the aliens and their technology while I got more water, then we had the first big fight as they approached an alien structure located on a map found on the body of an alien after the first skirmish. Russell, the Corporal, really came into his own here: he usually plays boardgames that last several hours, so he was well into the strategic side of the game play, maximising his kill count in this and every battle.

With this set of aliens dispatched, the squad moved up to investigate the ring of 8 needle-spires and a set of failed NFA rolls turned this into a disaster of almost comedic dimensions. First, their entire tech support got vaporised by a booby trap ("You see their bones glowing brightly enough to shine right through ther MandelBrite suits before they are reduced to ash!") so they cautiously tested the structure for other defences by throwing rocks at it! Naturally, this set off the alarm, so now heavily armed aliens came to investigate. By this stage, everyone was comfortable enough with the basics to try some of the more sophisticated rules: one quick flashback and the aliens were completely wiped out in the blink of an eye (to general cries of "You bastard, I wanted to get some of those kills!")

As the squad tracked the aliens to their home, Dave described a magnificent city built into the tree tops of a forest and Kirsty had her chance for her trooper to shine. Having given her character a 'Barbarella-esque' quality at the start of the game, she decided to use her weakness before combat even got started. Now, maybe if this had been the group of strangers I'd run the game for the previous dday, I would have said something like "There's no need to do that" or "Well, you could do that but it won't be the best use of your resources", I just sat back to hear what she had to say. And it was priceless! Apparently her trooper had been smothered under an onslaught of furry mammals in her past and the smell of all that wet fur in the alien city was making her freak out! She tried to rush the aliens on her own (thus forcing the rest of the squad to defend her) but she ended up surrounded by the aliens as they ripped off her armour with this claws! Exposed in only a singlet and briefs (did I mention Barbarella?), she was so scared that she, um, produced a smell of her own that freaked the aliens out...

After capturing the alien's leader for interrogation, it was time to return to the mothership for debriefing and medals, this taking place only two hours after we had sat at the table and I'd begun to explain the setting and rules. It was one of the smoothest, most refreshing games I'd played all during the convention. At least partly this was because it was the only game I'd taken part inn where everyone playing was a someone I knew well, so I was better able to tailor my GMing to their style of play. Only, of course, for 3 of them, this was their first chance to realise their style of play, so I got 3 new perspectives both on the game and on the way I GMed it.

I guess it's not so much what I learned as what I had reinforced; in particular, the rules should follow the players, not vice versa. As people suggested things they wanted their characters to do, it was a case of juggling, twisting or skipping the rules to make that happen. For example, after the third battle, Kirsty had got hold of one of the aliens weapons and it had already been established just how devasting their energy beams were: in order to maintain 'play balance' or 'stick to the rulebook', I might have weasled out of letting her use it somehow. What I actually did was to give her maximum kills in the first round of the final battle, as if she had used a strength, but then have the weapon run out of juice. She got a great reward for her ingenuity but not so much of one that it made it impossible for anyone else to catch up to her kills score.

It was also illuminating to see how quickly the game can play: I was making the assumption that a normal session of 3-4 hours should represent one mission, but I went back and read the rulebook again and there it was: a session may be one or two missions on the same planet, lasting 3-5 hours. How often we fall victim to our assumptions. And, of course, the length of the mission should always be what suits the group playing it, no what suits the me or what I think the rules say about it.

Also a big-up for the sub-mission generator in the Collective Endeavour Journal, which adds a lot more depth to what I would otherwise probably turn into an endleess series of bug-hunts. I'm not very militarily minded, I need all the help I can get.

Still, the whole game was great fun and everyone seemed interested in playing it again: I think Richard, now that he's got a little practical familiarity with it, is looking to use it as an 'entry level roleplaying game' for some other RPG virgins of his acquiantance. It was definitely one of those gut-level experiences that really open your eyes to how you're running games and reminds you to follow the players, not lead them.
Caveman-like grunting: "James like games".

Ron Edwards


I noticed something else about your GMing, at least as reported in your post, which showed up in both prep and play. Apparently you like to participate in key decisions or tactics of the players. Once, with the NFA/FA split, and again, with Kirsty's choice to use the Weakness ... seems to me you really had a notion of how the funnest way to play would be that you were accustomed to saying out loud. It also struck me that you wrote about it in such a way as to question what you were doing, and so I thought I'd bring it forward.

Best, Ron