Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Intro game: after action report

Over the summer I agreed to run an intro session to roleplaying games for friends of long-time gaming buddy R. Last Wednesday we finally rolled dice: a nice little session with lots of roleplaying, headscratching and cries of "what the hell is wrong with this swamp?" Good times!

I went into this game thinking I would be introducing Warhammer players to their first game of Dungeons & Dragons, so I planned to do a post mortem and see what worked and what didn't. As surprise number one, it turned out all the guys had played D&D in one form or another before, two even showed up with 5th edition D&D at the ready. No problem, this meant I could run through my "so imagine a world" speech and dive right into character creation and the game itself.

My resolutions and what came out of them

Have a starting situation ask for immediate in-character choices. 
I think this worked. The players started out as veterans owning a barge (inspiration) financed by a loan from vicious Gnome maffia. In other words, a great reason to find a job and pay off their debts. The hook came in the form of a sailor who wanted to send a package up river to the town of Angelspit (stolen wholesale from Goblin Punch's Frogstar Peninsula) Immediately, haggling broke out, especially when a mute monk showed up carrying a vow of silence and the wish to go to Angelspit. In the end the group took the job. Turns out the sailor's package is medical stuff to fight the plague ("the what now?") and the monk is a secret cultist shipping the skull of a demonologist to Angelspit (apparently there is a cult, which is cool and awesome - they had plans and personality and a backstory and everything so The Wicked City can suck it)

The DM sets the stage, the players decide what their goal is.
I had planned to skip the first few days of travel, but the party was hell-bent on investigating forests and not-so abandoned towers on the river bank. This led to an encounter with war refugees, who were harrassed by bandits - themselves quickly dispatched by the PCs.

Players need to hear that they can try do much more than what it says on the character sheet; if they can imagine the character doing it, it has a chance of working.
I'm not sure this came across. Interaction with NPCs went fine, but there was little improv going on. Mostly it was questions on how to gain cover or flanking or the like. I think the best event was when the barge - damaged after an ambush in a trio of huge locks - was saved by the cleric who declared water to be anathema so it couldn't flood the boat. Or perhaps when he used that spell to drive a magical disease from a fellow player (but had to haggle with the spell not to blast said unbeliever from the face of the earth entirely.)

I will need simplified game rules and character sheets. For buy-in, I'll let players make their own characters.
Character generation with a pared down version of AD&D/5th ed/Goblin Punch spellcasting was done in under an hour, but afterwards the players said they'd have prefered to dive right in with pre-generated characters. This makes sense in hindsight - they'd played D&D before, so character generation was not unknown to them. I think one of them sneaked a fake roll of 18 on strength past me (he had come up with the same stat in a rolled-at-home character), but hey - it was only a oneshot. His character ended up with a magical plague which gave him a frog's tongue, so that felt fair and balanced.

I want to avoid long-winded shopping for inventory and starting spells, so I'll prep starting packs of gear and spells. Include stuff that needs a bit of creativity to use properly.
Skipped this, used basic equipment packs from D&D 5th edition with the option to buy stuff in the store. Like roleplayers everywhere, they loved the chance to go shopping. I'm happy that I calculated their starting funds to be too low to get the really optimal armors and weapons and other gear. This meant they had to compromise right away and were happy to loot gear off some bandits. I did not hand out OSR-style items like unbreakable knots, because I just plain forgot.

While the basic rules need to be simple, there need to be enough weird, moving parts to characters and the environment to encourage out of the box thinking.
So-so. The spells were intentionally weird and required a bit of creativity to use. The spirits behind the spells could also be consulted to answer questions on topics in their field, which was used nicely. I did try to avoid skill checks and just go by characters' backgrounds, but the question "roll for it - we'll see" is pretty standard to me. Could've fleshed out proficiency system some more to see what happens when you don't have a proficiency and want to give something a go anyway.

Other things I tried out

Normally I prep a starting scene and plant leads to follow-up scenes. In addition, I flesh out NPCs who are driving their own plans forward and have it all run wild and free. The effect is sort of like Zak's Hunter/Hunted, but less formalised. (In other words, I decide on the spot what would be a good reaction by The Enemy when the PCs are stalling out.)

This time I went with a proper hex map, random encounters, a whole bunch of NPCs with secrets and desires, and - to be honest - no clear idea up until game day who of them was behind the whole Magical Plague thing. The hex map only really started to work when the players wandered into the swamp around cursed Angelspit, looking for witches or bog folk or anything that was causing the plague.

Take something from them to get insta-hatred.
The big beef the players had at the end of the session? Not the cult behind the magical plague. Or the apothecary with her magic potions who had caused a religious schism and bloodbath by letting a love potion get in the wrong hands. No, it was the initial sailor who hired them to deliver a package (to a plague-infested town, as they discovered on arrival) - and pocketed half the sum he was supposed to give them. Currently declared abomination and arch-heretic, I think I could spin a campaign out of the PCs trying to hunt down this guy for 100 pieces of silver.

In summary

A nice day of gaming; I wouldn't mind rolling dice with this group again. Story didn't really get closure - or could be spun out into a larger campaign pretty easily.