Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Gateway Post Mortem

So! Gateway went pretty well. The swashbuckling game was great, which easily had as much to do with my players as with anything else. I unwisely put off almost all my game prep for both that game and the D&D game I ran until the very last minute. I knew I was in trouble a few days earlier when I realized that if I were to take my printer with me to the hotel on Friday, I could just print stuff off there. This I did, and it meant running two games and playing in a third on Saturday powered by, say, two hours' sleep. I don't know how I made it, but I'm still catching up on sleep.

Anyway, this isn't a blog about me, so let's get to the mechanics.
  • The roll-and-keep Fudge dice mechanic was good, as expected (and previously experienced).
  • Also as expected, players tended to save up their Elan for when it really mattered. As evidence, I present the three simultaneous duels at the end of the game, all of which pretty much ended as soon as a player got Advantage.
  • Speaking of which: The Advantage mechanic continues to be workable in spite of initial reservations about it slowing things down. Then again, I don't think it's gotten the workout it needs, either. In the playtest we did here in Irvine, our one duel had a lot of back-and-forth. At Gateway, those three duels resolved really quickly, because the players were loaded for bear while I didn't use any Elan at all for the baddies. In my defense, it was nigh unto the time of quitting and I wanted to wrap things up in a suitably heroic manner. Still, I maintain that the primary goals of the Advantage mechanic -- to encourage a more action-packed, dramatic narrative within combat and to make all skills matter in combat -- was met... with extreme prejudice. One attempt to obtain Advantage was essentially a staredown: Esprit vs. Esprit (or Resolve vs. Resolve, in SotC terms).
  • A couple of the characters had higher Status/Social Class than the rest, and one was decidedly low-class, but... it didn't really come up, which was too bad. I blame myself for that, because it should have, but I missed it. The Baron Francois de Chevreuse had a few social conflicts in which Status easily could've acted as a complementary skill. So... my bad, there.
The basic plot involved the siege of La Rochelle in 1627-ish, which lasted for an interminably long time. Cardinal Richelieu assembles a diplomatic envoy to go into the Huguenot-controlled city and negotiate the terms of a surrender. This group includes Henri and Christian D'Aramitz (a pair of Gascon brothers renowned as among the bravest of the King's Musketeers who are also fierce rivals), Gaspar de Rocheforte (one of the Cardinal's Guardsmen, and therefore somewhat at odds with the Musketeers), Virgil (his reluctant manservant), Pascal Labrousse (a Catholic priest who secretly dreams of being a Musketeer), and the aforementioned Baron de Chevreuse (a young nobleman and the Cardinal's nephew, with an aspect of "Flighty, Arrogant, and Charming as Hell"). In addition to the stated mission, they're also to conduct reconaissance on the city's defenses and disable, by any means necessary, the La Vierge, a 500-tonne, 80-cannon ship captured by the Duc de Soubise, a leader of the Huguenot rebellion and the military mastermind behind La Rochelle's defenses.

(This is stolen in equal measure from reality and an old Flashing Blades adventure. Flashing Blades continues to be an awesome resource for the genre; I highly recommend it.)

It ended up being full of swashbucklery goodness and intrigue, including a secret message passed via a dropped handkerchief, a masked ball, disguises, mistaken identities, naked fencing, and three simultaneous duels aboard an exploding ship, among others. Best of all, as a playtest it vindicated a lot of the little tweaks and alterations I'd made here and there for the swashbuckling genre. More playtesting is needed, obviously, but it feels pretty solid now.
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