#AdventureSeed: Unanticipated Road Trip

I’m totally not using my current situation as blog fodder. Honest!

(Except that I totally am. These events are happening in real time. Yes, I started writing this in SFO. I still hate ORD more, but not by much. Now I’m 30,000-feet in the air. /sigh)

This is designed to be used in a Fate-based game, but feel free to hack it into BRP for CoC/Delta Green, Ultra Modern, or any other contemporary system you like.

Setup

Imagine that your heroes have an Important Deadline. Create an aspect that describes it. They need to be somewhere TOMORROW. That’s non-negotiable. BUT they have to travel to get there. By commercial air carrier. (It doesn’t matter which one. They all suck.) Make sure that there’s a bonus on the line or some other equally pressing matter. There always is.

Special Rules: They have a Short Timeline stress track with four stress boxes (one stress per box). All stress delivered during Scenes #1 and #2 hit the Short Timeline stress track. If they suffer more than 4 stress, they fail to obtain whatever the deadline represents or start the next thing at a disadvantage because they’re late to the party as follows:

  • Success means that you’ve got a set of connecting flights to a nearby airport (60-mile drive) where you’ll have to find transport.
  • Failure (i.e. being taken out on the Short Timeline stress track) means that they’ve got a pre-broken itinerary, but they won’t know it until you land late at a connecting flight and then have a much longer drive to your destination (300+ miles) and the commensurate challenges associated with that.

Teamwork: Only one primary hero can take the requisite action at any time. However, if anyone else has the same Approach or Skill used by the primary above Mediocre +0, then allow each to support the attempt with a static +1.

It doesn’t really matter where they’re flying to. This has happened to me flying to Seattle, San Antonio, Houston, Chicago, Dublin, Budapest. . .you get the picture. The most annoying was probably being diverted to Tacoma after sunset (with three small children and a partner who can’t safely drive in the dark), having to rent a vehicle big enough for five people plus two-weeks’ worth of luggage, and then drive over the Cascade Mountains in the dark during a blizzard. But I digress. Hooray for adventure!

Scene #1

  1. Compel a the convenient Important Deadline aspect to delay their flight, which breaks their connecting flights.
  2. Goal: Interacting with a genuinely helpful but totally incompetent airline employee, have them engage in a social conflict in which they have to A) keep the airline employee on task despite her easily randomized, squirrel-chasing nature and B) minimize the impact to their schedule, which is challenging, because her competence level with the arcane software the airline uses very low and she’s easily distracted. Her name starts with B, and it really doesn’t matter what B stands for.
  3. Create Advantage: Allow one of the heroes to establish rapport with the airline employee in some way. Choose a skill or approach. Your opposition is +2 for the CA attempt as usual. Failure results in a complication a.k.a. new aspect Lost Luggage (the team will arrive without their checked bags, weapons, and other gear). Hint: Do not piss off airline employees–no matter their level of competence.
  4. Defend (Round 1): The first thing that they need to do is help the poor woman understand their predicament. Attack at +0. The heroes can choose how to respond to the attack. Adjust the difficulty as appropriate based on their choice of Approach or Skill. Success means that further steps will be at the standard difficulty. Failure means that all subsequent attacks on their Short Timeline have elevated opposition by +2. Stress hits Short Timeline.
  5. Defend (Round 2): The easily distracted woman is having difficulty not leaving her workstation to help other people when she should be searching for connecting flights for the heroes, especially the cute crying baby at the next counter over. Attack at +4. Stress hits Short Timeline.
  6. Outcome: Either way, the heroes are NOT going to be able to fly into the nearest airport to their destination. Do not allow them to declare facts that bypass the following scene. If they offer a concession early, give them the short drive. If necessary, compel some more aspects and make it worse and worse until they get the memo. They arrive at a connection in Scene #2.

Scene #2

When they land at the nearest airport that they can get to, the fun begins. It helps that this a remote connection for “reasons” and there is no Lyft or Uber service in the area, because it is a low population backwater.

  1. Compel: Whatever Important Deadline aspect is driving the party to need to be there TOMORROW, because there are no cars for rent. None. All of the usual suspects have completely sold out their inventory and the local cab companies are closed for the night.
  2. Goal: Find a suitable vehicle to transport ALL of them to their destination in a timely fashion.
  3. Overcome: They are free to come up with whatever wacky scenario they like, including grand theft auto (not recommended by my law enforcement experience, but guaranteed to produce fantastic roleplay opportunities AND a chase scene with the local sheriff–whee!). Set the opposition intentionally high (at least +4 higher than the group’s peak Approach or Skill). Stress hits Short Timeline, if they have any left.
  4. Outcome: Make the resulting transportation as easily identifiable and attention getting as possible, especially if the heroes need to be stealthy. The heroes arrive in Scene #3 driving their acquired jalopy.

Scene #3

This is where it goes badly. Whatever looming threat you have in your game will meddle with the heroes at this point. Probably in some sort of physical conflict in an ambush. Drop in the French cafe ninjas or the cybernetic orangutan pirates or whatever.

  1. Compel an available aspect that results in the conflict you wanted to setup so the heroes will have a fate point waiting for them at the end of the scene. Heh. It could be a hero’s trouble, a game aspect, or something new–whatever seems like the most entertaining.
  2. . . .
  3. Enjoy the conflict!

That’s what I expect to happen when I land and try to drive several hours toward home because the useless airline couldn’t get me a flight to my home airport after all the cancellations and delays. Dammit. Wish me luck!

Getting Ready to Run a Game?

Hey, you, GM. GAMEXPO 2017 is around the corner (less than two weeks!). Are your sessions ready to run? I figured as much. That’s why this post is here.

Nick’s got some great points in his post The Noobs Guide to Planning Your RPG Session. He’s talking specifically about a Star Wars game, but I think his concepts apply regardless of what you’re running. I’ll summarize then extemporize. His high level outline is:

  1. Know Your Party, Know Yourself
  2. Make The Hook
  3. Decide Your Mechanics
  4. Make Your Setting
  5. Commit To Your Setting
  6. Free Up Some Workspace

Suggested Re-Ordering

Seems pretty straight forward. Although I might argue that “Make Your Setting” and  “Commit To Your Setting” should be #2 in the order of operations. . .since they sort of dictate what hooks you have available to you and how your players will expect you to implement them.

I like to think of the game and the setting as characters. In Fate Core games, the game is a first order concept with attributes and mechanics of its own, and its a logical extension of the Bronze Rule of Fate: You can treat anything like a character. Hence, I think of the setting as a character:

  • What does it want and why?
  • What does it [look/feel/taste/smell/sound] like and why?
  • What things about it aren’t obvious that the heroes are going to learn (the hard way)?

I’m sure there are lots of other great questions about a setting-character that I should ask, but those are where I start. Oh, and by setting, I mean the overall universe and each location where scenes/encounters will take place. And each one of those is like a genius loci in my mind.

The Real Hook

With regards to hooks, Nick says:

The hook should have three main things. Why they are there, what the problem is, and the cookie.

I think of “hook” differently. These three items of “hook” all boil down to context for the adventure. In regular groups and playtests, I do what Nick suggests and ask the players to figure out why they’re there. (We’re typically using Fate Core, so it’s not an unusual question for the players.) However, in other game systems, the expectations are different, which is compounded by convention play and the possibility of having five or six random strangers at the table.

What I think of as “hook” that’s important for anything, RPG session or otherwise, is what makes it interesting and different from all the other similar things in the list. I’m running two different, all-new adventures this year:

  • Modern Gods (hook: you get to be a street god defending your peepz!)
  • Forcing Function (hook: you’re smuggling are cargo that’s far more valuable than you first thought)

Modern Gods [Modernity/Fate]
Nietzsche was wrong. New gods are born all the time. You know, because you’re one of them! As a modern god, you have power coming out of your nether regions, but. . .You’ve also got responsibilities. The day to day nonsense? No, you’ve got people for that. But, once in a while, something big shows up that your devoted worshipers can’t handle on their own. When that day comes, it’s up to you and your pantheon to get off your thrones, rise up, and smite the usurpers. Today is that day.

Forcing Function [Starcrossed/Fate]
You’re an opportunistic capitalist! Hurtful Translation: Smuggler. After a couple easy years in the biz, thing were going so well! But now, the “job” that was supposed to be a milk run has turned into a looming disaster. Everything that could possibly go wrong already has. Except you’re not dead. Yet. I won’t tell you the odds, but you and your crew have never been caught behind enemy lines in a three-way shooting war with all three sides hunting you for the cargo. What do we do now, Captain?

Deus Ex Mechanics

Nick didn’t spend much time on this, but the fact that he touched on it at all is huge. Too many GMs (myself included sometimes) don’t think about each encounter and the likely game mechanics that may be necessary. Little things like changing the encounter balance to intentionally easy once in a while can add a lot of flavor to the game–not every fight needs to be a fighting-for-their-lives encounter for the heroes. Let them show off sometimes.

In the mechanics department, especially for convention play, I also highly recommend figuring out where you can fast forward if you’re burning through your time budget too fast. There are ways to turn long encounters into more manageable contests or challenges without making the players feel cheated.

Last Laughs

All up, Nick’s article’s a good reminder of the fundamentals and a helpful outline. If you didn’t wander off and read it already, go do so now.

And the winner is. . .plus survey summary.

Overview

The Modernity Cover Concept survey was open for 10 days and gathered 114 responses from posts on in Fate-related Facebook groups, subreddits, Twitter, and one the email newsletter for San Antonio Meetup group. There’s not a lot of interesting trends for responses by day of response, but the second day garnered the most responses which might lead one to conclude that reddit folks like to express their opinions and generally act immediately, if they’re going to act at all, but that’s only speculation based on the fact that the survey was posted to reddit the day after Facebook and Twitter: Survey Monkey doesn’t have a built-in mechanism for tracking referral source without making some changes to the survey structure. (Lesson #88 learned there.)

Data Points

In quantitative terms, the two primary avenues of exploration were 5-point feeling thermometers for each of four concept images created to test several stylistic elements against the following questions:

  1. Based on this cover style, would you buy this game?
  2. Based on this cover style, what ESRB rating would you give this game?

Anecdotal, open-ended input was also requested for each concept.

Here’s how the data of responses graph out:

Anecdotes

Overall, I’m happy with the quantity of anecdotes. It always falls off a little bit throughout a survey as people try not to repeat themselves or just feel like there’s nothing to comment on, but in this case the anecdote curve is nearly flat, which is great! I’m very glad (as a data scientist) that you’re willing to share. While I’m reading them, though, I have to send other my wanna-be creative and somewhat autistic selves on vacation. . . The Fate Fan Club isn’t shy about being brutally honest!

“Personally, I think the art style lacks polish and gives it an amateurish feel. I expect the game inside to be similarly less than finished.”

“Nope. Drag this out back and shoot it. This looks like it’s done by a 14 year old with a freshly pirated copy of Illustrator who brags that they’re gonna make 6 figures as a freelance design guru no really check out my deviantART.”

The next two demonstrate the trend of getting polar opposite feedback from members of the same audience about the same image. . .

“I like that the cover feature women in a way that’s not sexualised, but I kinda hate the monster and that 3D vibe. It breaks the noir mood.”

“Looks both clunky and overly sexualized”

Across concepts there were respondents that completely disagreed, which is to be expected. But I’m not sure what to do with an equal number of people who say opposite things about the same image:

  • “Not Enough Detail!” and “Too Much Detail!”
  • “It looks amateurish and lacks polish.” and “I love the look and the promise of what’s inside.”
  • “I love the daemon” and “I hate the stupid demon”
  • “It’s a bunch or mismatched stuff thrown together.” and “I like the different characters shown off, makes me associate the game with variety.”
  • “Cthulhu is a nice touch” and “Meh, another RPG that uses Cthulhu-like artwork”

I shall ponder upon the duality of man and find a way to make peace with the fact that I can’t please them all. . .

In particular, I am curious about why #37 seems less rated M for Mature than the other three. Anecdotes for #17 and #23 seemed to indicate that a few of folks assumed the female spellcaster was naked (I’m curious about why some respondents came to that conclusion–does the color white indicated nakedness in some parts of the world?) and a minority of respondents were hyper-focused on the breasts of the same character (which somehow makes me the misogynist or the over-sexed teenager?), but there weren’t any breast-focused or porn-related commentary for #42 (as if all well-endowed women star in porn?) which would naturally lead to a similar above-Teen rating. Maybe Cthulhu Himself by definition automatically rates one ESRB level bump?

Awkward transition. Not sure what to do with this one:

“How old are you guys? Having women issues much? Wow…”

Short answer: No, not really.

Fortunately, the majority of respondents gave helpful feedback about specifically what worked for them or what didn’t.

“Preferred the demon to Cthulhu, although I can see having him might draw in certain folks. Prefer this card layout to the torn paper. Best design yet.”

“This one makes me think we’ll be dealing with Cthulhu, or some Cthulhu type themes, which makes me think of a more mature theme. Also, makes me want to get it more.”

I’m curious to know what specifically prompted this one (saying “everything about it” isn’t helpful, either):

“Quite cliché”

Lots of stuff to think about. And discuss with my wife of 25 years and long-time business partner.

Overall

It goes without saying that I’m bummed that very few folks took these as prototypes for comparison purposes, instead judging them as finished work. But, I’ll take the feedback however I can get it. I already knew why most creatives refuse to share anything that’s not (in their own opinion) perfectly polished, which I believe prevents a lot of good feedback from flowing, but I also get that early feedback can often be unpleasant.

For the record, I didn’t get anywhere near a large enough sample to generalize broadly, and in retrospect there are a couple of important qualifying questions that I failed to ask (bad survey designer!) which would have shed more light on the WHY of the responses, which leaves me to focus on the WHAT of the responses we do have for this analysis. For example, I think that some of the hypernegative feedback were simply people who are averse to UF or ON as genres in the first place, but there’s no way to discern that from this survey as designed. Next time!

With #42 the only concept to receive any #5 rankings (“Hurry up and take my moneys!”) and the fewest #1 rankings (“Nope!”), it might seem the clear winner. But, #17 also clustered very heavily around a #3 ranking, it just had a couple more #1s to drag it down and no #5s to pull it up. Although there were anecdotes from people who preferred either #23 or #37, they were far fewer than those that prefer the alternatives and they didn’t love either enough to give either a single #5 ranking.

Although most respondents agreed that Modernity (regardless of cover concept) was Teen-rated, for some reason there’s something about #37 (the cover with ripped out tabs) that pulled huge for E10+, which drug the overall rating estimate down. Not sure if it’s the simpler coloring of the characters, using a head-n-shoulders view instead of full figure, the lack of Cthulhu, or some combination of the above. Curiouser.

Still, the data and the anecdotes will be enormously helpful in charting the course forward for Modernity, its art style, as I churn forward finalizing the next iteration of the product for 2018.

Thank you all very much. (Yes, you, too.)

The Winner

The percentile-oriented analog random number generators had their say, and they decided that the winner of our $50 DriveThruRPG gift certificate is. . .

Congratulations to Lauren Woods!

The digital transmission has already happened, and Lauren has been encouraged not to spend it all in one place (although, that’s going to happen regardless the silly advice I gave). Perhaps at some future date Lauren will be willing to disclose what was purchased with the windfall? Inquiring minds and all that, you know.

Postscript

I’m always open to whatever feedback whenever you’re willing to share through whatever medium you’re willing to share it. Some people need something to hate, and I’m OK with being the focus of evil in the modern world for those folks if that’s what they need to feel better about themselves. I learned a long time ago that unhelpful negativity from others isn’t really about me anyway.

For those of you who’ve offered specific actionable feedback or to help or collaborate in some way, you’re wonderful and I’m grateful for you. Be looking for follow up email from me soon. Until then, may we all be rewarded for our intentions, not our actions.

Survey Closed: Thank you for your input!

The Modernity Cover Concepts survey closed on Friday as planned, but since the weekend was busy with preparing for NerdvanaCon this coming Saturday (plus unplanned teenage family drama) and a new Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) group full of teenage girls (actually not the source of the family drama, if you can believe it). The new FAE group includes some wackiness I couldn’t’ve dreamed up (High Concepts) for the members of the band “Power Outage”:

  • Merman Musician on a Motorcycle
  • Backup Bard with a Dream
  • Concert Fashion Designer
  • Dwarf Wizard in Oversized Robes
  • Des Bus-ito (think Transformers-style tour bus)
  • Knight with a Loaded Mind

Anyway, that’s why I’m just now wading through the survey responses and aggregating the numbers to get a better picture (pardon the put) of your thoughts on the four concepts. Some things that I’ve already observed:

  1. Some of you are very, very “honest” with your feedback. I asked for your unvarnished opinions, and boy howdy did y’all deliver! (I think I can tell who the reddit respondents are by the tone of their input. Heh.)
  2. There seems to be a very consistent preference for one style in particular, but there are some outliers who love the others. Have to ponder on that.
  3. It’s clear from the feedback that I’ve still got work to do to improve even the most popular style of the four. Roger that!
  4. I could be wrong, but there seems to be a little hold-over bias based on the original Modernity art style. Not sure how to account for that, but I’ll keep thinking about it.
  5. Some of you offered to engage in a discussion via email, and I definitely plan to take you up on the offer. Thank you double!

I’ll be getting out the analog random number generators of the percentile variety this evening to determine who the winner of the DriveThruRPG gift certificate is. If all goes as planned, I’ll be announcing that winner later this week and sending fifty of my own dollars ($50!) to that lucky person.

Again, thank you all of your input!