Friday, September 18, 2009

Dread Zombie follow-up

After talking with my players and getting feedback, I realized the truth in the statement "you are your own harshest critic."

I thought I didn't do a great job giving everyone spotlight time. They seemed to disagree. Most felt like they got enough time to shine and have their character do stuff.

I thought I "shot down" player ideas. They disagreed. Example: a player attempted to leave by the back door. I said that "They" parked a truck in front of it so you can't get out. I wanted to give her something, though, for her effort, rather than just "No you can't go that way" so I threw a clue in the form of overhearing some plans. Afterwards I felt like the clue was too small/lame. She disagreed. "As a player, I didn't expect to get out." And she felt the clue wasn't lame.

I thought the plot seemed slapdash and incoherent. They liked it and were able to follow it. Though they agreed that at times it felt like they were going in circles.

So... overall I'm not going to improve my game's grade (which I gave a B+), but I am going to feel happier about it. It was fun. And that, after all, is the most important part.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

That was ... interesting

Just got home from the Zombie game of Dread I mentioned in the previous post. Now I'm trying to figure out if it was a wreck or a success.

First, the most important question: Did I have fun? Yes. I did. Most of the time.
Second, did the players have fun? Yes. I think so.

- Half-n-half doesn't work.
I wanted to run an improvised game, but was too nervous to fully commit to said improv game, so I prepared notes and clues and scenes and stuff. But since I didn't want to prepare too much, I only half-prepared. Important lesson: half way between improvised and prepared is a dangerously non-committal game which confuses both players and GMs.

- Silliness.
I wanted to run a more serious game with players more invested in their characters' fates and personal stories. I would say this only succeed at about 33%. Only about a third of the time did I feel like I go to make good use of interesting character quirks, draw out intercharacter relationships, or create clues or scenes based on the characters. I will in no way place blame for this on my players.

I gave each player a few scraps of paper and they occasionally passed me notes, and I passed them notes. In a couple of instances players passed me "hey this would be cool for my character" notes or took me aside to tell me them secretly. Actually, these worked out pretty well. The problem was that I didn't feel like I, as GM, did enough to encourage this and to make sure every player got an opportunity. At least one player got left out of the spotlight the whole game. Sorry, Allie. That was my bad.

- Ran out of ideas
Towards the end I really started to run out of ideas and felt like I was making the players pull for things that were silly. I also felt like my default "I can't think of anything" solution was "hey look, a zombie!" It felt too cheezy after a while.

- The players (thankfully) acquiesced to my story premise: you are locked in the building with the zombies and a "clean up crew" is on the way.

- We all seemed to enjoy stealing classic zombie tropes
Someone was already bitten. Someone had been part of top-secret experiments before. There was the classic stereotypical lab. We had some great ripped-from-the-slasher-flicks characters. It was lots of fun.

- The End!
Even though a split party proved a challenge for me, it ended well. One group escaped by helicopter (first character death of the game was a Heroic Sacrifice to take a bullet for the chopper pilot). The other group descended into the secret basement labs, then the sewers.

In the sewers the climactic moment was a series of inter-player conflicts (bid a number of pulls, highest bidder wins, but has to make those pulls) in which one character shot at another (missed), then was attacked by a third character (and died), while the fourth character tried to steal the stolen data and escape (and got shot by the dying first player)!

I think I'm going to chalk this one in the "Win" column. I had fun. I'm pretty sure my players had fun. There were some rough spots, but we pulled through. It was silly, but in a campy zombie-flick sort of way. And the mistrust between characters, the paranoia, was palpable and resulted in great end-story conflicts.

If I had to give it a letter grade? B+. Solid effort, clearly there's something there. With a little refinement, a better hold on the reigns, and a clear decision between full improv or full preprepared, this could easily be a solid A game.

Tower Corp: a game of Dread

Dread has to be one of my favorite RPGs. Ever. It does survival horror PERFECTLY. But that's for another post.

Right now I have about 30 minutes until I'm going to run a game of Dread and I am nervous as hell! I'm not normally a nervous GM for RPGs. But this time I am trying two very dangerous things:

1. I'm trying to keep the game largely improvised. That means planning less. That means a scary feeling of no control.
2. I'm running a Zombie plot. Zombie plots tend to be fairly open-ended. And the last time I ran a zombie plot the game felt like a failure (I didn't have fun and from my point of view the players looked bored).

I am terrified and excited and eager for and dreading this game.

Here's hoping it works.

The basic premise:
The players are all employees of Tower Corp. After working late one night they are about to leave when suddenly a strange man (zombie) attacks one of them. The well-meaning security guard insists that everyone stay put until an ambulance and the police arrive. But instead of the police/ambulance, a team of pseudo-CDC types arrives and locks down the building.

They say that a CDC Incident Evaluation Team is on the way, but that's a lie: it's really a "clean up" team who are there to eliminate any witnesses or traces of infection.... with extreme prejudice.

Meanwhile, the players will have to deal with zombies and each other. Hopefully they'll want to investigate the cause/source of the zombies and find it in their workplace.

Dear lord I hope my players are willing to take as many chances as I feel like I'm taking with this.