Monday, March 16, 2009

Session 2

Mostly thoughts about GMing an improv game and the nature of The Armitage Files as such.

To summarize Kyle's input, I'm running the game both too "sandboxy" and at the same time not "sandboxy" enough. Basically, I need to either give the players a lot more leeway, and run with what they do, or I need to more clearly define the boundaries of the plotline.

How to do that?

Bold and __Underline__ and Highlight the major clues and important scenes.

Jamie talking to Dr. Clever at the circus - Dr. Clever didn't have information about the topic Jamie was asking about, but he does have other sinister secrets. But I was too wishy-washy through the interaction.

Interrogation of Olaf Olson - there had been fairly strong build-up to this encounter, but the information offered didn't satisfy. Not in a "oh I guess he's not the guy" sort of lack of satisfaction, but more like "The information we did and didn't get, didn't live up to the build." Olaf was supposed to point to the Circus, but I dropped that clue in small type amidst a long list of non-information, dead ends, and little clues. Without the bold highlight, the Circus didn't seem that important.

Something the Armitage Files is missing: Advice on running an improvised campaign or scenario.

Armitage Files does offer a scenario spine worksheet, but doesn't develop that thoroughly enough for Keepers not experienced with running improv or freestyle-like games. I think The Armitage Files would do well to include an article along the lines of The Three Clue Rule.

I really think that I'm starting to learn that I need to have a solid story idea in mind in order to feel satisfied when running a game. Perhaps that's just my inexperience with improvised gaming. Although...

I think what I did after Session 1, I should have done before Session 1. I think, instead of making cards for every entry, I should have made cards for the entries that I wanted to be important, with notes about the important clue elements. That way, if something wasn't important to the story, I could just gloss over it, and in the meantime, the important stuff would be well prepared, and that would serve to boldify, underline, and highlight the relevant clues.

It would seem that it takes MORE work to prepare an improvised game than a pre-written one. I'd have to try running another improv game or two in order to find out for sure. We'll see...

The lesson from this session:

Identify the Major Clues ahead of time, and when they are encountered, put them in BOLD BRASH TEXT. Minor clues, red herrings, and dead ends, should be in regular text or at least clearly defined as alternative plot-lines not necessarily leading to the Grand Conclusion.

But the most important question...Did I have fun?

Yes. Lots.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Armitage Files - Playtesting Session 1

I think this session went very well. I had a lot of fun, and my players did too. We went in and out of humor, but when the in-game goings-on got intense or suspenseful, the mood was appropriate.

Generalities out of the way, here's some details on how I felt about things:
1. I felt less prepared than I would have liked. This is partly due to the nature of how I am going to run the campaign: improvised. I have not run a lot of fully improvised games before (one - as a play-by-post). I was not sure how to prepare, and so I decided on reading and rereading the MANY entries for people, places, and things in the campaign material.
1.a. I made awesome notecards (see below) by typing up very short notes about some of the entries (the ones most likely to be encountered in the first session) and attaching them to old Call of Cthulhu:CCG cards.

1.b. I think those worked out really well, but for the rest of the cards I may try to add more info and leave room for adding notes during play.

2. The material. I feel like there is a lot going on in the first two documents. There are some leads mentioned in passing in the documents that my players picked up on that are not covered in the corresponding document keys (Document 1 examples: the Hornets, the Red Box). This contributed to my sense of under preparation, since I hadn't readied that material.
2.a. I used Olaf Olson's sinister mode. Wasn't sure how to deal with him at the military base. I think I may have mishandled that. Redo? I would have said the military had no record of him, since it hadn't happened yet, and tried to hint later that he wanted to join the military to better/redeem himself?

3. Future plotting. I'm a little nervous about keeping all the details and plot-lines straight. I have audio from the game to review, so that will help. Though I'm a little nervous about maintaining a clear progression.

4. This should have been #1. LISTEN TO WHAT THEY SAY WHEN THEY TELL YOU TO HAND OUT THE DOCUMENTS AHEAD OF TIME!!! This ate up a TON of time and dragged everything down in terms of pacing. Either send it ahead of time (Note to Simon: include with purchase of game .pdf handouts for the documents) or bring multiple copies to the game (Note to Simon: layout the documents so there are not two documents on the same page. ie. use page breaks).

5. The material is excellent, and I can definitely see myself running the same material through a completely different lens and getting another wonderful story. I hope I get the opportunity to!!

Notes added during/after listening to game audio.

Document 1 - The players all felt that the document was very rambling and incoherent (it is! it's supposed to be). But they felt that it was very difficult to weed out the useful/relevant information. I suspect that this problem would be alleviated or minimized by giving the players the documents ahead of time, thus giving them more time to absorb and filter.